The Epistles of Titus, Philemon and Hebrews
A Devotional Look at the Epistles to Titus, Philemon and Hebrews
F. Wayne Mac Leod
Light To My Path Book Distribution
Copyright (c) 2014 F. Wayne Mac Leod
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise specified, are taken from the New International Version of the Bible (Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used with permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers, All rights reserved.)
Scriptures marked KJV are from the King James Version of the Bible
Special thanks to the proof readers and reviewers without whom this book would be much harder to read: Diane Mac Leod, Suzanne St. Amour
This is a devotional commentary on the Biblical books of Titus, Philemon and Hebrews. By devotional commentary, I mean that its focus is on what the passage has to say to us about our walk with the Lord God. My goal is not to be overly academic or scholarly. I trust, however, that the reader will gain a better understanding of these important books of the Bible and see how they relate to everyday life.
In Titus, Paul writes to Titus, who is ministering to the believers of Crete, giving advice concerning church life. He gives counsel on how to find godly leaders who will lead their church into a deeper relationship with God. He instructs on dealing with false teachers and gives guide-lines for living a pure and holy life, proving the fruit of salvation.
In Philemon, Paul speaks to a Christian slave master about his newly-converted runaway slave. He encourages Philemon to forgive and give his once useless slave a second chance. It is a book that challenges us to forgive and to trust again.
Hebrews was written to Jewish converts who needed to see the superiority of the Lord Jesus and his new covenant over the Law of Moses. Using illustrations from the Old Testament, the author explains how Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law and established a better way. Hebrews is written to those who face struggles in their relationship with God. It is a challenge to persevere despite the difficulties that rise up in our lives. The author encourages his reader to consider Christ and his work. He calls us to approach God boldly through the work of Christ and shows us how Christ’s work is sufficient for all our spiritual needs.
As with all the books in this series, my desire is that you read the Bible passage along with this commentary. If you only read this commentary, you are missing a vital part of what I am trying to accomplish. This commentary is not a replacement for the Bible. It is merely a study aid. This book is not a replacement for the Holy Spirit either. While I trust that the Spirit of God has led me in the writing of this work, I recognize that he must also lead you in the reading and study of it and the Scripture it is meant to explain. Ask the Spirit of God to give you insight. He may choose to use this commentary to give you that insight or he may challenge you directly.
As you begin this study, would you take a moment to bring a couple of matters to the Lord? First, would you pray that God would use this teaching in your life and through it draw you closer to himself? Second, thousands of copies of books in this commentary series are being sent free of charge to needy pastors and Christian workers around the world. Pray that this book and others in the series will be useful tools in the hands of God’s Spirit to bring others closer to Christ. May God richly bless you as you embark on this study.
F. Wayne Mac Leod
Paul is the author of this letter to Titus. He identifies himself in Titus 1:1.
Titus was a Gentile co-worker with Paul and Barnabas (see Galatians 2:1-3). He spent time ministering in the city of Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 7:6-15 he brought news of the state of the church in Corinth to Paul. We understand from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that Titus had been a very enthusiastic worker who had taken initiative to minister to them on his own (2 Corinthians 8:16). Paul stood firmly behind the ministry of Titus and encouraged the church to love him as a true servant of God (2 Corinthians 8:23-24).
When Paul wrote this letter, Titus was in Crete, an island in the Mediterranean. Paul had asked him to stay there for a time to appoint elders and complete some unfinished work (1:5).
It appears that the believers in Crete needed guidance in how to live the Christian life. According to Paul and one of their own poets, Cretans were known to be liars, evil people and gluttons (see Titus 1:12). Titus was to instruct the believers of Crete in how to live the Christian life and walk in the truth of God’s Word. Paul gives Titus advice on the qualifications of elders he needed to appoint and what God expected of the members of that church in general. Paul’s purpose in writing to Titus was to help him to make wise decisions about the church and its leader-ship.
The Importance of the Book for Today:
The letter to Titus is quite practical. As the church in Crete was a young Gentile church it needed to be instructed in some very basis guidelines in how to live the Christian life. Paul instructs Titus in how the men and women of Crete needed to behave now that they had turned to Christ. The book shows us that there is a standard that God expects all believers to maintain in their walk with him.
Paul encourages Titus to speak with the authority that had been given to him by God as his representative. He was to do his best to warn, teach and encourage the believers in Crete to become examples of Christ to an evil and deceitful society. In a day when we are tempted to be like everyone else in our society, the challenge of this book is very real. God calls his people to be examples of godliness in the midst of darkness and evil.
Read Titus 1:1-4
As was his custom, Paul began his letter by introducing himself. Very often in his introductions we catch a glimpse of Paul's heart and purpose. Here in this letter to Titus, Paul shares with his readers the privilege he felt to be a servant of the faith.
Paul introduced himself as a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth. We need to break this down to understand what Paul is saying.
The apostle called himself a servant of God. The Greek word used is the word "doulos." The idea is that Paul was a slave of God. A slave served the interests of his master over and above his own personal interests. In other words, the slave lived to please his master. Paul is pleased to introduce himself as a servant or slave of God. He had devoted his life to the service of his Lord and Master. He did not belong to himself. He surrendered all rights to his Lord and devoted himself to serve and please him. We all need to come to this place in our lives.
Paul told his readers that he was also an apostle of Jesus Christ. As an apostle, Paul was specially chosen by God as his representative. Notice that as an apostle, Paul had two goals.
Paul was first an apostle for the faith of God's elect (verse 1). The elect are God’s true children. Paul saw his role as an apostle to minister to all who belonged to the Lord Jesus. He was an apostle for their faith. In other words, it was his responsibility to build up the faith of God's children. While we have come to the Lord Jesus and accepted him as our Saviour, we still need to be built up in our faith. We need to be encouraged in those times when things are difficult. We need to be challenged when we are heading down the wrong road. Paul’s responsibility was to strengthen and build up the faith of God’s people. He did this by preaching, praying, writing and challenging them in particular areas of their lives. Paul had a burden as an apostle to see believers become everything God intended them to become. He was called by God as an apostle for the strengthening of their faith.
Notice second that Paul was also an apostle for the knowledge of the truth that led to godliness (verse 1). God had entrusted the truth of his Word to Paul. This truth was a truth that led to godliness and Christ-like character. Paul was accountable to God to faithfully pass on that truth. He was called to preach and teach it with the purpose of bringing people into line with the purpose of God. It was Paul’s responsibility as a servant to guard that truth with his life. It was not to be compromised or watered down. He was to be faithful in defending it against false teaching so that God’s people would know the truth and live godly and holy lives. The truth Paul preached was truth that led to godliness. It was not mere doctrine or facts. This truth was life-changing and practical, and would produce godliness in those who took it to heart.
Notice in verse 2 how Paul defines godliness. He told his readers that this godliness was a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life promised before time by a God who does not lie. Let’s break this down and examine its parts.
The godliness that Paul speaks about here was connected to faith and knowledge. There can be no godliness without faith and knowledge. It is by faith in the work of the Lord Jesus that we become children of God. It is through the knowledge of his Word that we grow in our relationship with him.
Godliness also relates to a hope of eternal life. What does a hope of eternal life do for the believer? It brings courage to face death and the trials of this life with confidence because we know what is in store for us. Our hope of eternal life challenges us to live pure and holy lives knowing that the Lord Jesus will call us to account for our lives when we stand before him. It brings thankfulness and praise to our hearts for the gift he has given and the privilege we have of living forever with him. Godliness is directly connected to our hope of eternal life.
Paul went on to tell Titus in verse 2 that his faith, knowledge and hope of eternal life rested on God, who does not lie. If there is one thing we can be assured of as believers, it is that those who belong to the Lord God will live forever with him. We will be in his presence and walk with him throughout all eternity. We have this promise from a God who is completely trustworthy.
Notice that the knowledge, faith and hope of the believer were promised before the beginning of time (verse 2). Even before the world was created, God decided to create a people who would be with him forever. The history of this world is the history of God reaching out to his children and drawing them to himself in accordance with a purpose he had before this world was created.
While the promise of God for eternal life was before the beginning of time, it was unclear initially to humans how he would fulfil that purpose. The Old Testament prophets looked forward to the time when that promise would be fulfilled and the barrier between God and people broken down. In verse 3, Paul told Titus that, at the appointed time, God shed light on that promise. The fulfilment of that promise came through the Lord Jesus who died on the cross and took our sins. Paul had the privilege of announcing this wonderful message to the world. He pointed his readers to the Lord Jesus as the fulfilment of this eternal promise of God.
The Lord Jesus was the central focus of the preaching of Paul. He was the fulfilment of the promise of God to bring eternal life. The hope of the entire world rested in Christ and his work. It was this message about Christ that would build up the faith of the elect and give them hope and confidence of eternal life.
Having shared with his readers the nature of his call, Paul turned his attention to Titus, his co-worker. He reminded him that he was a true son in the faith. As a true son in the faith, Titus was walking in the hope of eternal life and the truth of God’s Word. Paul begins by wishing him the fullness of God’s grace and peace.
* How does the apostle Paul describe his ministry in this passage?
* Paul considered himself to be a slave or servant of Christ. What does this mean? Can you say that you are a slave or true servant of Christ?
* What is the connection of faith, knowledge and hope to godliness?
* How is the Lord Jesus the fulfilment of the promises of God from before the beginning of time?
* Ask the Lord to help you to willingly surrender to him as his servant. Ask him to reveal anything that you are holding back.
* Thank God for what the Lord Jesus has accomplished for you on the cross.
* Thank the Lord God that he is faithful to his promises.
* Ask the Lord to help you to live more fully in the faith, knowledge and hope that leads to godliness.
Read Titus 1:5-6
This letter is to Titus from the apostle Paul. Paul's concern is to instruct Titus in what he needed to do in the region of Crete. In particular, he challenged him to finish the task that he had been called to do. The church in Crete needed to be matured and organized. Paul entrusted this work to Titus. This not only shows us the particular ministry of Titus but also the concern of the apostle for the churches of his day.
Paul reminded Titus that the reason he had left him in Crete was so that he might straighten out what had been unfinished (verse 5). Paul had left him the responsibility of appointing elders in each town where a church had been established. It was important to Paul that the church have strong leadership. Paul explained to Titus the kind of leaders he should be looking for. In this chapter we will examine what Paul taught about the qualifications for elders.
The elder needed to be blameless. We should not see from this that an elder needed to be perfect. Only Jesus lived a perfect life. Elders fall into sin. They say things they shouldn’t. Their attitudes are not always right. Some even have a sinful past. They are as human as any one of us. When Paul told Titus that the elder was to be blameless, he was telling him that when the elder sinned he was to deal with that sin, confess it to the Lord and be restored. He was to be a person who delighted in walking in harmony with God and his purpose and when he fell, he would quickly deal with sin so that it did not stand between him and his God.
The Husband of One Wife
The second qualification for the elder was that he needed to be the husband of one wife. We need to understand that in the culture of the day men often had more than one wife. Paul told Titus that this was not the plan of God. From the beginning of time, God intended that man should only have one wife. He gave Adam one woman to be his companion. It is true that often men took more than one wife in Scripture but this was not the plan and purpose of God from the beginning.
Paul’s statement here brings up several questions? Can a man who remarries after his wife dies be an elder? By remarrying the elder takes a second wife. To answer this we need to understand that death breaks the covenant between a man and a woman united in marriage. It is clear in Scripture that a partner whose spouse has died is free to remarry (1 Corinthians 7:39). While this man has married a second wife he has not sinned. Because his first wife is dead, he still only has one wife. He is free to be an elder.
What about a man who has been unfaithful to his wife? By being unfaithful has this man taken a second wife (even though he has not married her)? This is obviously a very different situation from the first example we considered. In this case, the man has obviously sinned against his wife, against the church and against God. He is no longer blameless and the church must address the matter through discipline.
Having said this, the Lord Jesus also forgave those who fell into sexual sin. When the Lord forgives he no longer holds the sin against us (Psalm 103:12; Hebrews 10:17). While we may want to allow some time for healing to take place we ought to recognize the forgiveness of God in these situations. Paul the apostle, before he came to know the Lord, did much damage to the work of God. Peter, as a believer, denied the Lord Jesus. David committed adultery and murder as a believer. In all these cases, the Lord forgave and went on to use these men. We need to keep this forgiveness before our eyes at all times. Our goal as the body of Christ should be to restore fallen believers and restore them to ministry. We should be careful not to hold something against a brother that the Lord has forgiven and forgotten.
What about those who have been divorced? Scripture allows for divorce in certain situations. If a man is divorced and takes a new wife, has he not taken a second wife? Once again we need to examine the cause of this divorce. Did he put away his wife because he got tired of her or couldn’t be bothered working on the marriage? Did he divorce his wife because he saw someone else he liked better? We can learn much about the kind of leader a person will be by examining his family. How he works in his family life will indicate how he will work in the church.
The elder should be one who has proven to be faithful when things are difficult. We need, however, to balance his past history with what we have already said about repentance and forgiveness. People can change. God does forgive and restore. The question that needs to be addressed is whether the elder has repented of any wrong and is living now with one wife to whom he is absolutely devoted and faithful. We should be careful about holding people hostage to sins of the past when God has forgiven and they are now living in victory.
Believing and Respectful Children
Notice third, in verse 6 that not only was the elder to be an example in his relationship with his wife but also in his relationship with his children. Paul told Titus that his children were to believe and not be open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Let’s break this down and examine it further.
The elder's children needed to believe (NIV). There is some debate over what Paul means by this statement. There are elders all around the world whose children are not walking with the Lord or have not yet accepted him as their Saviour. Does Paul mean to say that no man who has an unbelieving child can exercise the role of elder in the church? If this is the case, we would need to wait until the elder’s children had grown up and accepted the Lord before they could even be considered. His ministry and call would then be completely subject to the behaviour of his children.
The word for “believe” can also be translated “faithful” or “trustworthy.” Some translations of the Bible have chosen to use “faithful” instead of “believe.” The idea is that the elder has done his best to train his children in the ways of godliness. Paul clarifies this when he says that the children of elders were not to be charged with being “wild and disobedient.” If, while his children are under his care, the elder does not concern himself with their behaviour and spiritual well-being, what does this say about what kind of a leader he will be for the church?
The focus of this passage needs to be on the efforts of the elder to raise a godly family rather than on the individual commitment of each child. A quick look at the Old Testament shows us that many men of God had children who did not follow their example. David had children who wandered from the Lord. The children of Abraham, Isaac and Job did not all follow the Lord. God did not reject them because of their children. He did, however, expect that they do their part to train their children in the ways of godliness. No one can guarantee that if we teach and share Christ with our children they will always come to Christ. The elder cannot guarantee the salvation of every one of his children but he can do his part to teach and train them in the ways of the Lord.
An elder was to be an example. He was to be blameless in his walk with God. That does not mean that he was to be perfect. He was, however, to walk in obedience to God and when he fell he was to quickly repent and be restored. He was also to take his role as spiritual leader of his family seriously by respecting and loving his wife and training his children in the ways of God.
* What does it mean to be blameless? Does this characterize your life?
* What does this passage teach us about the importance of the family for a Christian leader? How easy is it for a Christian leader to ignore the needs of his family in order to minister to the needs of others?
* Take a moment to examine your relationship with your spouse and children? Are you the spiritual leader in the family you need to be?
* Ask the Lord to search you to see if there are any areas of your life that need to be made right with him?
* Take a moment to pray for your spouse and children. Ask God to draw them closer to him.
* Pray for the wives and children of the elders in your church.
* Ask God to enable you to be the spiritual leader he has called you to be in your family first and then in your church.
Read Titus 1:7-9
Paul has been speaking to Titus about his responsibility to teach and appoint leaders in the churches of Crete. In the last meditation, Paul instructed Titus about the qualifications for elders. In verses 7-9, Paul speaks about the qualifications for an overseer.
The overseer was a bishop or pastor. He may have been responsible for a single church or for a larger group of churches. Consider what Paul had to say about the qualifications for an overseer.
An overseer, according to Paul, was entrusted with God's work. The word “entrusted” is significant. This is not a position the overseer decided to take on himself. He was chosen by God for this role. He was given the charge by God to care for the affairs of a particular aspect of his kingdom. He had a very particular call from God. There are many people who want the role of pastor or overseer but not all of them have been particularly called of God for this role.
Because the overseer had been given his responsibility by God, he needed to be a man of character. As with the elder, the overseer needed to be blameless. We have already seen in the last meditation that this does not mean that the overseer had never sinned. The Lord Jesus is the only perfect one. The overseer, however, was not to live in known sin. He needed to have a character that others could look up to and follow. If he fell into sin he was to deal with that sin immediately and be made right with God. He needed to be a clean vessel for God's use.
Paul went on to say that the overseer was not to be overbearing. The word "overbearing" in the Greek language can mean "self-willed," or "self-pleasing." The overbearing leader knows what he wants and pushes people to get it, sometimes ignoring the problems he causes on the way. In doing so, he disregards the people for whom he is responsible. Sometimes to get his way he forces people or pressures them to do things his way. Paul reminded Titus that an overseer was to be gentle in dealing with people
How often we want to take on the role of the Holy Spirit. It is not our responsibility to convict people of sin and change their ways. This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The overseer is to be gentle and patient. He is to give room for the Holy Spirit to work in his time in the lives of his people. He must love them and be patient while the Spirit of God does that work. This will not always be easy. We need remember the patience and gentleness of God toward us in our rebellion and take this as our example. The people the overseer ministers to will not be perfect. They will fail and fall short of the standards of God's Word. The overseer will deal with them in a patient and loving way.
Not Quick Tempered
An overseer was not to be quick-tempered (verse 7). That is to say, he was to be in control of his emotions and tongue. Not everything will go the way the overseer wants. People will disappoint him. Some will reject what he says. The tendency would be to get angry with these people. Anger does not accomplish the purposes of God. Admittedly, there are times when anger is legitimate. Paul told Titus, however, that the overseer was to be slow to get angry. Again we see the importance of patience. An overseer, who pushed his ways on others and responded in anger when things did not go his way, was not the kind of servant God was seeking. The overseer was to be patient and in control of his emotions.
Not Given to Drunkenness
The overseer was not to be given to drunkenness. He was not to let strong drink influence or hinder the ministry to which God had called him. The overseer needed to exercise control. Anyone who was given to abuse alcohol was to be forbidden the role of overseer. Instead of being controlled by wine, the overseer was to be controlled by the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 5:18).
If a man exercised the role of overseer, he was not to be a violent man. The kingdom of God is not expanded by violence. It is expanded through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The one who is given to violence feels that he can advance the kingdom of God in his own strength. Violence is from the flesh. This violence will come in the form of excessive discipline. It will come in the form of oppression. Those who are given to violence will use force in and attempt to expand the kingdom of God. These people may desire the expansion of the kingdom of God but they forget compassion, mercy and gentleness. They are so focused on rules, regulations and principles they forget love, mercy and compassion. They minister from the flesh and not from the Spirit. The overseer must love people and have compassion for them. He must not resort to force to shape people into the ways of the kingdom. Instead he must be gentle and patient, trusting in the Spirit of God and not his fleshly efforts.
Not Pursuing Dishonest Gain
The overseer is also not to pursue dishonest gain. The overseer must be someone who is honest in his dealings with people. He is not to use his position to enrich himself at the expense of others. Money and possessions should not be his motivation. He must be willing to surrender all for the sake of the kingdom. He should be selfless and self-sacrificing in his service.
Instead of pursuing gain for himself the overseer is to be hospitable (verse 8). That is to say, he is to use the resources God has given him for the sake of the king-dom. He is to show kindness to strangers and friends alike. He is to be a giving and caring person delighting in using what he has to minister to others.
Lover of Good
The overseer is to love what is good. There are many evil things in this world. The overseer takes no delight in these things. Not only does he not participate in them but he finds it repulsive even to watch or hear of them. His mind is set on what is good. His heart loves the things of God. He rejects whatever is contrary to the Word of God. From the very core of his being, this man delights in God and his ways. There is no hypocrisy in him.
In verse 8, Paul went on to tell Titus that the overseer was to be self-controlled. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It is a God-given ability to take control over the flesh and its desires. The flesh desires what is evil. It hungers for sin. Often that craving of the flesh is very powerful. We can fall prey to its cravings and influence. The Spirit of God is willing to give us the fruit of self-control. He will give us the strength to resist the pull of the flesh. The overseer is to be an individual who has opened his heart to the ministry of God’s Spirit to strengthen him to overcome the temptations of the flesh. He successfully resists the pull of the flesh, its lustful and sinful desires and walks in spiritual victory.
Upright and Holy
The overseer is also to be upright and holy. The person that is upright is one who is in a right standing with God. The overseer is also to be holy. To be holy is to be undefiled by sin and set apart for God and his purposes. Holy people are pure in their actions, motives and intentions. This holiness is a gift of God. The Holy Spirit is the source of this new and holy nature. The overseer is surrendered to the work the Holy Spirit is doing in him. He is becoming more and more like the Lord Jesus.
Discipline is yet another characteristic of the overseer. Discipline is the ability to be in control of oneself. The person who is disciplined will control his emotions and passions in order to do what is right. He is not lazy or slack in his responsibilities. He is committed to the cause of the kingdom and is not afraid to work hard or to suffer much for the sake of that kingdom.
Holds Firmly to the Truth
Finally, in verse 9, the overseer was to be one who held firmly to the “trustworthy message” as it had been taught. The overseer knows the truth of God and holds onto that truth. The enemy will do everything he can to water down the truth. There will be times when preaching and teaching the truth will be very difficult. Not everyone will enjoy hearing it. In some cases, preaching the truth will bring persecution and hardships. People will mock and insult those who preach the truth. The overseer, however, will hold firmly and not compromise.
An overseer was to teach the truth of the Word of God for the encouragement and strengthening of the body. He was to faithfully correct those who were wandering or opposing that truth. He was to preach it, teach it, defend it and live it out practically in his own life.
The task of being an overseer was not to be taken lightly. The overseer was to be an example of godliness and purity. He was to love people and be filled with compassion and gentleness in his dealings with them. He was to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit, holding on faithfully to the Word of the Lord. He was to lead others to the truth of the Word and demonstrate it before them by his life and words.
* God has given us all the task of caring for certain aspects of his kingdom. What is your responsibility?
* The overseer was to be gentle and patient. What does this teach us about God's concern for people?
* Have you ever found yourself trying to take on the role of the Holy Spirit in an attempt to convince and persuade them in your own strength? Why is this wrong?
* Take a moment to examine yourself in light of the teaching of this passage about the qualifications of an overseer. Do you demonstrate in your life all of these characteristics? What area needs some work?
* What is the role of the overseer in regards to the defense and proclamation of the truth?
* Ask God to give you more compassion and gentleness in your dealings with people.
* Thank the Lord for his Word which is our authority and guide. Ask him to help you to know that Word more and live it out practically in your life.
* Take a moment to pray for your spiritual overseers. Ask God to make them the people he wants them to be. Thank him for them and the role they play for the sake of the kingdom.
Read Titus 1:10-16
We have seen so far that Titus had been commissioned by Paul to carry on the work in Crete. He was first to establish a leadership in the churches so that they could continue in the Word as God intended.
In this final section of chapter 1, Paul showed his under-standing of the situation in Crete by commissioning Titus to silence those who were teaching false doctrine. We saw in the last meditation that part of the responsibility of the overseer was to hold firmly to the truth and pass it on to those who were under their care. Paul reminded Titus that the reason why it was so important for these overseers to hold onto and preach the truth of the Word was because there were rebellious individuals in their midst who were misleading the people of God. Let's examine what Paul has to say to Titus about these false teachers in this passage.
In verse 10, Paul reminded Titus that there were many rebellious people in the world. This rebellion was against God and the truth of his Word. The individuals Paul spoke about were not ready to receive God’s Word or to surrender to God’s ways.
In verse 10, Paul described these people as mere talkers. They had many things to say, but the words they spoke did not have any basis in truth. Their words were power-less because they were not empowered by the Holy Spirit. They were human ideas and philosophies. These individuals taught and preached, but their words were hollow and empty of any real purpose.
Paul also told Titus that these false teachers were deceivers. They were instruments of Satan to draw people away from the truth of the Word of God. In the Garden of Eden, Satan deceived Eve into eating from the Tree of Life. He offered her many things if she would just eat from the tree in disobedience to the command of God. Eve believed Satan’s lies and fell into his trap. The false teachers of Crete were likewise being deceived by Satan. Some may have even felt they were defending the truth when in reality they were instruments in the hands of Satan.
Notice that Paul mentions the “circumcision group” in verse 10. This group taught that circumcision and observance of the Jewish Law of Moses was a necessary part of salvation. Paul told Titus in verse 11 that these individuals needed to be silenced because they were ruining whole households and turning them from the truth.
Paul was not against circumcision, but he was against the teaching that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Salvation could only be found in the Lord Jesus and his work on the cross. To say that the work of Christ was not enough and that an individual also had to be circumcised was blasphemous. Paul was very clear about this matter. Christ's work alone was sufficient to forgive our sins and bring us into the kingdom of heaven. The Gentile did not need to become a Jew before he could be saved. The work of Christ was all he or she needed. To preach that a person needed to do anything but accept the work Christ had already done was to diminish the significance of what the Lord Jesus accomplished on the cross. These deceivers were preaching a message of salvation by works. According to verse 11, they had infiltrated into many Cretan homes. Families were being deceived by the false doctrine of the circumcision group. They caused division in the church and needed to be silenced.
Paul told Titus in verse 11 that these individuals were actually profiting from this false teaching. They were receiving support and financial aid as they went from home to home preaching false doctrines. In those days, traveling preachers depended on the generous gifts of God's people. Unfortunately, there were many false teachers being supported in this way as well. Paul described the money received by these false teachers as “dishonest gain.” They received financial support for telling lies and deceiving people. They would have to answer to the Lord God for this.
It appears that in Paul’s days, the Cretans were known as liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons (verse 12). This seems to be very harsh but these words were not Paul's words. These were words used by one of their own prophets who rebuked them for their evil. Crete was not an easy place to live and work in. There was much work to be done for the gospel. Crete was a stronghold of Satan. Paul challenged Titus to rebuke those who had fallen into the evil ways of the day. It appears that even the church was suffering from the effects of their evil background. Titus was to sharply rebuke those who had fallen into false doctrine and practices and call these things to their attention so that they would be sound in their faith and reject the Jewish myths and false teachings that were circulating in Crete (verses 13, 14).
Paul called for a separation from all that was ungodly. How much of our cultural and personal family back-grounds do we bring with us into our relationship with Christ? Salvation brings us into the family of God but it does not make us perfect. There is still much work to be done after our salvation. We need to die to the sins of the past. We need to separate ourselves from the strongholds of our background that keep us from growing in the Lord. Titus was to take a strong stand against the evil of the Cretan culture of his day. He was to call for a cutting off of every cultural and sinful habit or attitude that did not line up with the teaching of the Gospel. Perhaps we also need to be awakened to the reality of the sinful baggage we are carrying with us into our relationship with Christ. The Cretans were known for their dishonesty and evil. When they came to Christ they were to cast off these things and surrender completely to Christ and his pur-poses. Their culture itself needed to change because it was not in line with the clear teaching of the Word of God.
Verse 15 can be somewhat difficult to understand. Paul told Titus here that to the pure all things were pure. The key to understanding this verse is in the condition of the heart. The person who is pure is one who is in a right relationship with God. His or her mind and heart have been renewed and cleansed by Christ. If your mind and heart have been cleansed and renewed by Christ you see things from his perspective. Our money, our thoughts, our private life and every part of us are committed to him and bring honour and glory to his name.
On the other hand, if our hearts and minds are corrupt, we will see things from a very different perspective. Those things that are in and of themselves pure and honourable will be corrupted and defiled by the sinful and corrupt mind. We see this in the area of money or sexual-it. These things are pure and honourable in themselves but the corrupt mind has perverted them. Sexuality is abused and defiled. Money, when touched by the evil and corrupt mind will become the root of all kinds of evil.
What we need to see is that sin begins in our heart and mind. If that mind is corrupt, sin has fertile soil in which to grow. If the mind is pure, sin is filtered out and rejected. The pure mind results in praise and thanksgiving to God. The corrupt mind twists what is good and turns it into evil.
When we act on what the mind has corrupted our con-science is defiled. God has given us two filters when it comes to sin. The first of those filters is the mind. We are given a mind to understand what is good and what is evil. As we read the Scriptures they shape and direct our mind, revealing to us what is right and godly. If we resist the truth in our mind and sin, the Lord will then stir up our conscience as the second filter. We may then feel very uncomfortable or guilty. Deep down inside we sense that what we are doing is wrong. At that point, we can either resist what our conscience is telling us or accept it and change our ways. If we resist, our conscience becomes hardened. In time it will no longer disturb us when we do what is evil. This is what had happened to the false teachers in Crete. They had resisted the truth in their mind and blocked their ears to the sound of their conscience. Now they practiced evil and taught lies without this affecting their conscience in the least. Their conscience had now become corrupt.
These very individuals who refused the truth of God and resisted the inner voice of their God-given conscience, now claimed to know God and serve him as his representatives. Paul has harsh words for these false teachers. In verse 16, he called them “detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.”
The church in Crete was surrounded by sinful cultural practices and false teachers. Crete was a battle ground of Satan. Titus had a great task before him. It was his responsibility to speak out against the evil in Crete. He was to call for a separation from anything that was not in line with the clear teaching of the Word of God. Crete needed to be brought back to the Word of God. Evil needed to be purged from the church and the land if God’s blessing was to come in any great measure.
* Is there evidence of Satan seeking to draw people away from the truth of the Word of God in your land today? Explain.
* What do we learn in this passage about the danger of believing in salvation by works?
* How is preaching false doctrine profiting from dis-honest gain?
* What have you taken with you into your walk with God from your past? What do you need to deal with in order to grow in your walk with God?
* What is the importance of conscience? How can it be defiled?
* Are there false teachers in your community? What are they teaching?
* Ask the Lord to purify your mind so that you will see things as he sees them.
* Ask the Lord to search you to see if there is any-thing from your background that you need to con-fess and deal with.
* Thank the Lord that our salvation is based on his work alone and not in anything you do.
* Ask the Lord to cleanse your mind and con-science so that it is once again in tune with him and his will.
* Ask the Lord to convict the false teachers of your community of the truth of the Word of God.
Read Titus 2:1-15
In the closing verses of the last chapter, Paul charged Titus with the responsibility of silencing the false teachers in Crete who were leading God’s people into error and false doctrine. He also encouraged him to establish elders in the various communities where there was a church and told him what kind of qualifications he was to be looking for in elders and overseers. Paul now turns his attention to the average church member, giving instruction to Titus regarding different groups in the church.
The first group Paul wanted Titus to address was the older men. The older men were to be in control of their bodies and their cravings. In chapter 1, we saw that the elder and overseer were not to be given to wine. The same principle applied to the older men in the congregation. Could it be that this was a particular temptation to those who had free time on their hands?
These older men were to be worthy of respect, living lives that honoured God in every way. They were to be examples of godly speech and behaviour. In order to be respected, they needed to deal with any sins in their lives. They would also have to be honest in their dealings with others.
Self-control was another characteristic that older men were to demonstrate. This is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that enables us to live in victory over the temptations and sins of the flesh. It also affects how we use our time and the way we work. How easy it would be for the older men to sit back and let others do the work. Paul was telling them that they needed to take control of their bodies and minds and use them for the kingdom of God. This was not a time to sit back and do nothing or to be lazy and slack. They still had much to contribute to the church and the community as a whole. They were to discipline them-selves in the work of the kingdom.
The older man was also to be sound in faith. In other words, he was to hold onto the faith so that he could pass it on to the next generation. He was not to side-track from the clear teaching of the Scriptures or wander from the truth that had been passed on to him.
Paul also challenged the older men to be filled with love. If they were to be strong and healthy in love, they could not do this by retreating into a shell. Love requires action. Paul is telling the older men that they were to step out in practical demonstrations of love. They were to seek out opportunities to demonstrate love to the people of God. The older man could do this in a way a younger man could not. The church needs those who will demonstrate a father’s love. I remember teaching a group of spiritual leaders on the island of Reunion. All of these spiritual leaders were younger men. One of them expressed his burden to find an older man in the faith who could be a spiritual father to him. There is a crying need for this healthy father love in the body of Christ today.
The older men as well, were to be sound in endurance. They were not to give up hope. They were to persevere. The race would not be over until they were in the presence of the Lord. As long as they had life and breath they would have something to contribute. It would have been easy for these older men to pull back and hand every-thing over to the younger men. Paul tells them not to give up. They still had much to contribute and they were to continue doing so to the end.
Paul next addressed the older women. He told Titus to teach these older women to be reverent in the way they lived. To explain what he meant by this, Paul gives some very specific examples in verse 3.
The older woman was to demonstrate her reverence by not being slanderous. To slander is to hurt with the tongue. It is to speak evil of an individual in such a way that it damages his or her reputation. This particularly seemed to be an issue for the older women in Crete. These women were to be very careful about how they spoke about others. They were not to let their tongues be instruments of division and harm to the body. Instead they were to use their words to build up the body.
The other temptation for the older woman was wine. Perhaps now that her family had grown up and she had nothing to do with her free time the temptation was to gossip and drink. Where I live, the coffee shops are filled with older people who gather together over a coffee to catch up on the latest news. Remember that in the days before coffee, wine was a social drink. How easy it would have been for these older women to get together over a glass of wine and share the news. Paul is telling these women that they were not to become “addicted to much wine.” They were to be controlled and sensible in its use.
Paul's heart for the older women was that they share their experience in life with the younger women. If there is a need for spiritual fathers in the body of Christ, there is also a need for spiritual mothers. Younger women need to have older women with whom they can share. There are matters that a younger woman can only share with another woman. In the light of the many problems that have arisen in our day with men counselling women, this advice of Paul is very good. Churches need to encourage the mature women to minister to and counsel the younger women. What a blessing this would be to both the younger and older women of the church. The older women were not to sit back. There was a very important role for them to play in the body of Christ too.
Notice in verse 4 what the older women were to teach the younger married women. They were to teach them how to love their husbands and children. How easy it is for the young married woman with small children to be over-whelmed with responsibilities. How easy it is for her to lose perspective. Yes, it is important that the meals are cooked and clothes are washed and the children are clothed but what is all this without love? The younger women were able to glean from the experiences of the older women, enabling them to find balance and maintain love in their hearts for their husband and children. When all is said and done, the husband and children would look back over time and remember the love of a wife and mother. The fact that the dishes were done and the floor was swept will fade away but her love will always be remembered. What an awesome responsibility the older women had to the younger women in helping them to maintain this focus of love in their lives.
The younger women were also to be self-controlled. Again this self-control has to do with being able to discipline the body and the mind to do what God required. It is the God-given ability to overcome the flesh, its lusts and temptations to do what is right. This meant that they were to be in control of their emotions, attitudes and actions.
Younger women were to be pure. This purity related to her relationship with her husband. She was to be faithful to him in every way. It may also relate to her relationship with God and her faithfulness to him in obedience to his Word. She was to guard herself and her thoughts so that they would be acceptable to God.
The younger woman, according to verse 5, was also to be busy at home. She was to provide for the needs of her family. She was to care for her children. Paul challenged the younger women of Crete to take their role as mother and caregiver seriously.
This care was not only to be seen in the immediate family. She was to be kind to those around her as well. Her heart was to extend beyond the needs of her family to the community and the church. She was to use her skills to demonstrate kindness and generosity to her neighbours as well. In those days that may have meant bringing food to a neighbour in need or helping with her children. She was to show compassion and consideration for others.
Finally, the younger woman was to be subject to her husband. This did not mean that she was a slave to her husband's every desire. It did not mean that she could not express how she felt or what she wanted. What it did mean however, was that she had a respect for her husband and his leadership role. She willingly came alongside him and worked with him. She surrendered to him and committed herself to him as her husband. She did not compete with him but worked alongside him. She did not overrule him and his authority but through discussion and consideration for him she stood with him in his decisions. Her heart was a heart of oneness, unity and love.
Paul speaks to Titus next about young men. Again the challenge to young men was to be self-controlled. As young men they were filled with energy and enthusiasm. The temptation would have been to defy anything that stood in the way. Paul reminded Titus to teach these young enthusiastic men that they were to be in control of their emotions, passions and actions. They were not to let their enthusiasm get in the way of waiting on God, his timing and purpose. This self-control was not only in the area of their enthusiasm but also in regards to their moral lives as well. It would affect the way they used wine and strong drink. It would affect their lifestyle in general.
Titus as a Young Man
Paul addressed Titus personally in verse 7. It is unclear how old Titus was at this point but in the eyes of Paul he was his son in the faith. Paul told Titus that as his son in the faith he was to teach his fellow young men by living as an example for them. As a "young man" Titus was to teach with integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech. Let’s take a look at this in more detail.
First, Paul tells Titus to demonstrate integrity in his teaching. The word integrity has the sense of purity. When something is full of integrity it is not corrupted or tarnished. It is something that can be trusted as true. Paul told Titus that he was to be a man of integrity as he preached and taught the truth. You can only teach with integrity if you are living the truth you preach.
Second, Titus was to teach with seriousness. The idea is that Titus was to show reverence in his teaching. He was to understand that what he was teaching was very important. He represented God in his teaching and preaching, and as such he was to take this matter very seriously. He was to respect and honour the Word he was teaching.
Finally, Titus was to teach the world with soundness of speech. The word sound means to be healthy. The truth that he taught was not to be corrupted. He was not to deviate from the truth that had been taught him. He was not to water down that truth to suit the needs and wants of the people. Even though it might not be accepted, he was to preach without compromise.
In following Paul's advice and counsel, Titus would not give an occasion to anyone to accuse him. There would be those who oppose the truth (verse 8). By teaching with integrity, seriousness and soundness he would have nothing to be ashamed of.
The final challenge in this passage is to slaves. While Paul did not promote slavery, he recognized it as a reality in a sinful world. He spoke particularly to Christian slaves in this passage. Slaves had a particular set of temptations. Paul wanted to address those here.
Slaves were challenged to be subject to their masters in all things. Some slaves had masters who were very harsh. The temptation for a slave with this type of master was to rebel. There was no dignity in slavery. As slaves, they were under the control of their masters. To rebel and not show respect to their masters, however, would be to set a poor example. Imagine a Christian slave who was known for being disrespectful and disobedient to his master. What kind of example would this be? What kind of witness would this be for the Lord Jesus? They were to see their situation as an opportunity to demonstrate the difference the Lord Jesus could make in their life. They were to be respectful and honest in their dealings with their masters and in so doing they would honour their heavenly Master.
Paul encouraged slaves to please their masters. They were to make an effort to go the extra mile. They were to go beyond what they were called to do in order to please their master. This would not be easy, especially if their masters were harsh. It would however, demonstrate the reality of the love and character of Christ in them.
Christian slaves were to be in control of their tongues. Often they would be tempted to speak evil of their mas-ter. How easy it would be for them to speak back to him or complain to him when they did not feel they were being fairly treated. Paul told slaves in verse 9 that they were not to talk back to their masters but to trust God with their problems.
Paul warned slaves in verse 10 about stealing from their masters. These masters often lived in luxury. The slaves, on the other hand, lived in poverty. How easy it would have been for the slave to take a little here and there from his master. His master may not even notice. The same applies to our work situation. Just as God was calling the slave to be absolutely trustworthy, He also calls believers in any job to be people of absolute integrity. Slaves were to live and serve their master in such a way that their masters could put absolute confidence in them. They were to see their position in life as a means to show their master what it meant to be a Christian. Their masters, seeing their slaves and their trustworthiness, would be more open to hearing about the God they professed.
We are to be a witness and testimony in whatever situation God places us. Maybe you find yourself in a job you do not like. What a challenge it is to seek the Lord each and every day to be a witness and example for him in that job. God does not call everyone to be a pastor or church leader but he does call us all to minister where we are. The slave was to see his situation in life as an opportunity to serve the Lord by demonstrating to his master what it meant to be a Christian. God calls us all to see the work we are doing in this way as well.
* Paul challenged the older men not to sit back but to keep serving the Lord. What is the role of "spiritual fathers" in the church today?
* How can the older women of the church encourage and teach the younger women? How important are "spiritual mothers" in the church?
* Paul challenged the older women to teach the younger women to love their husbands and children. How easy is it for the young mother in all her activity to lose sight of this priority?
* The challenge of Paul to Titus, as a young man, was to be a man of integrity, seriousness and soundness. Do you demonstrate these characteristics in your life?
* Slaves were to serve their masters with a desire to honour and please them. How does this principle apply to your work situation? Do people at your work or school see Jesus in you? What do you need to work on?
* Ask the Lord to help you to be an example for him at your school or workplace.
* Ask the Lord to give you a spiritual son or daughter that you can encourage in the faith.
* Review what Paul tells each individual group in this passage. Ask God to reveal any particular area in your life that you need to work on for his glory.
* Ask God to help you to accept your situation in life and to be a real testimony of his presence and power in that situation.
Read Titus 2:11-15
In this letter to Titus, Paul has been speaking about the qualifications of elders and overseers. In the first part of chapter 2, he challenged Titus to teach men, women and slaves how they should live now that they had come to know the Lord Jesus as their Savoir. Paul’s emphasis on this shows us that the church of Crete had many issues to deal with. They had not matured yet into the people God had expected them to be.
Paul continued, in verse 11, by reminding his readers that it was the grace of God that brought salvation to them. This is important for us to remember. The Lord did not save us because we deserved this salvation. He did not save us because we had done anything that would merit it. Salvation is a gift of grace from a loving God to all who will receive it. There is no explanation for salvation apart from grace. Grace is the unmerited favour of God. We don't deserve to be saved from our sin, but God gives us what we don't deserve. He forgives and changes us simply out of his wonderful love and favour.
Notice in verse 11 that this salvation appeared to all men. The offer of salvation comes to all but not all will receive it. For those who do receive it, there is a wonderful change that takes place. Paul describes this change in the next verses.
In verse 12, Paul told his readers that the salvation that the Lord Jesus came to offer taught them to say "no" to ungodliness and worldly passions. Prior to recognizing the work of Christ on our behalf, we were caught up in the things of this world and its way of thinking. The things of God did not make sense to us nor did we find much enjoyment in them. Now that we have come to know the Lord and his wonderful salvation, life takes on a new meaning. Those who know the Lord Jesus find great joy and excitement in him. The things of this world seem to fade away and no longer hold the same interest. Worldliness and ungodliness no longer have the same attraction. Desires have changed. They now have the heart and mind of Christ saying, “no” to the ungodly influences and passions of this world.
The second thing the salvation of the Lord teaches us is to live self-controlled lives. Prior to our receiving Christ as Savoir, we were controlled by the world and its sinful desires. When we accepted the work of the Lord Jesus and received his salvation, the Holy Spirit came to live in our hearts. The Holy Spirit produces self-control in us. He strengthens us to do the will of the Lord and to resist evil. The flesh is still active in us. It wants to tempt us and draw us back to the former ways. Self-control is the Spirit-given ability to resist the flesh and its desires in order to do what God desires. If you have come to know the Lord Jesus you have also received the gift of his Holy Spirit to enable you to resist the evil of this world. Salvation is not only a change of heart and mind but also an empowering to do what it right through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Paul went on to say in verse 12 that salvation teaches us to live upright and godly lives in this present age. Temptations are all around us. Everywhere we turn there is evidence of ungodliness. Salvation changes our hearts and minds. It is an empowerment to do what is right. The result is a life that is very different from the rest of the world. Through the empowering Holy Spirit those who have come to know the Lord Jesus can live in victory over their flesh and evil desires of this age. The world sees a difference in them. They are godly and upright people because the Spirit of God is changing them into the likeness of the Lord Jesus. We need to understand that this does not mean that the believer cannot sin. A believer can certainly fall and even live in rebellion for a time. What Paul is telling us here, however, is that God provides all we need to live a godly and upright life. It is for us now to surrender to him and his purpose by resisting the devil in the strength the Spirit gives.
There is another aspect to this salvation in verse 13. Paul told his readers that those who experience the salvation of the Lord Jesus wait for the blessed hope. That hope is the return of the Lord Jesus. Those who are not ready for his return dread this day. The appearance of the Lord Jesus to the unbelievers is a dreadful thing. How different it is for those who love him. They live each day like a child awaiting a special letter in the mail. They arise with expectation that this might be the day. They live always ready for that return. This is their greatest desire in life, to see their Lord face to face.
Paul has two things to say about the work of the Lord Jesus in verse 14. First, he told his readers that the Lord Jesus redeems us from all wickedness. This is something that happened on the cross when the Lord Jesus paid for our sins. We should have died, but he took our place and paid that price for us. He set us free from the condemnation of sin. Notice that Jesus has redeemed us from "all" wickedness. There is no sin or wickedness that the Lord cannot forgive or from which he cannot set us free. All wickedness is covered by the blood of the Lord Jesus. What a wonderful hope this is for us.
The second thing Paul says about the work of the Lord Jesus is that he gave himself to purify for himself; a people that were his very own. This is the reason why the Lord Jesus came. He wanted to have a people of his own. He wanted to purify those people. There are times in my life when I wonder if ever I can overcome the sin that keeps me from deeper fellowship with the Lord. This passage tells me that it is the desire of the Lord to purify me. It is the work of the Lord to do the purifying. He does not tell us to do this on our own. We could never be the people he wants us to be in our own strength. We need him to change our hearts and attitudes. God wants to purify for himself a people who are eager to do what is good. Don't get in his way. Surrender to him and to his purpose. Follow his leading. Listen to his prompting. Obey him and watch him shape and mould your life into a vessel for his honour.
Paul concludes this chapter with a particular challenge to Titus to teach the things that he had shared with him in this letter. He was to encourage and rebuke in the authority of God. Paul reminded Titus in verse 15 that he was not to let anyone despise him. Titus would have enemies as he stood firmly for the truth. People would not like what he was teaching. He could not control how people felt about him. In saying that Titus was not to let anyone despise him, Paul was saying two things. First he was telling Titus not to give anyone reason or cause to look down upon him and his ministry. He was to live as an example for all to follow. Second, Titus was not to allow those who did not like what he was saying to hinder him nor discourage him in his ministry. Titus was to remember that he had been called of God. He was not to allow the comments and insults of people to keep him from his God-given calling. If God had called him into ministry, it really did not matter what others thought. Titus was to take his authority as a servant of God. He was not to be shy or timid in his teaching. He was to teach with authority as an ambassador for Christ. Those who listened to his teaching were to respect him for the authority under which he taught.
* What did Paul mean when he told his readers that their salvation was a gift resulting from God's grace?
* How did your salvation change your life?
* What evidence have you seen of the empowering of the Holy Spirit in your life?
* Are you living in victory over your sins? What sins do you need to overcome?
* Paul told his readers that Christ wanted to purify them. What is the difference between trying to live the Christian life on our own and letting Christ purify us.
* What has God called you to do? Are you walking in obedience to that calling?
* Ask the Lord to search you and show you the ways you have not been living in spiritual victory.
* Thank the Lord for the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. Ask him to open your heart to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
* Thank the Lord that he wants to purify us and has provided us with all that is necessary to walk in godliness. Ask him to open your heart to what he wants to do in you.
* Thank him for the changes you have experienced in your life since you came to the Lord.
Read Titus 3:1-15
Paul has been encouraging Titus to instruct the people of Crete in how they should live as believers in the Lord Jesus. In this chapter, Paul gives Titus a list of general characteristics that should be found in all Christians as they relate to the people of their community.
Subject to Rulers and Authorities
Paul tells Titus first that the people of God were to be subjects to their rulers and authorities. We need to remember here that not all these political authorities believed in Jesus. Some of these authorities were corrupt. While the Christian’s first obligation is to God and his purposes, he is still to do his best to walk in submission to those God has placed over him. Christians should be citizens who seek the good of their society and respect those whom God has placed over them to govern their community.
Believers are also to be obedient. This obedience is not only to the Word of God but also to the laws of the land. The context of the verse shows us that we are to be obedient and submissive to the authorities of our land. To ignore the laws of our land is to disobey God and destroy our testimony as believers.
Be Ready to Do Good
The apostle went on to tell Titus that believers should be ready to do whatever was good. Paul defines what he means by goodness in verse 2. He told Titus that the believer was not to slander. To slander is to speak evil with intent to harm a person or their reputation. Believers are to be careful in the use of their words. The words that come from the mouth of the believer are to be kind and godly. They are to build up and bless.
Also in verse 2, Paul told Titus that the believer was to be peaceable. Arguments and division do not generally accomplish the will and purpose of God. Christians need to remember that they were at one time enemies of Christ. While they were his enemies, Christ offered his life for them so they could live at peace with God. Believers need to follow his example in their relationships with others. They need to strive for harmony among brothers and sisters and to live at peace even with their enemies.
Christians are to be considerate. It is natural for us to put ourselves first. When the Lord Jesus lived on this earth he set an example for us to follow. He did not live for himself but for others. He put the interests and needs of others before his own. Believers need to follow the example of Christ and consider the needs and interests of others in everything they do. They are to willingly die to themselves and their own interests so that others can be blessed.
Finally in verse 2, Paul reminded Titus that believers were to show true humility toward others. This humility was to be seen in their consideration of the needs of others above their own. It was to be seen in their attitude toward those around them. They were not to lift themselves up above one another. They were to be willing to wash their brother or sister's feet like Jesus did (see John 13:5).
Paul reminded the Christians in Crete how they used to live (verse 3). This was in direct contrast with how they were to live now as believers. As unbelievers, the Cretans lived foolish lives. Maybe some of them were living in drunkenness and immorality. They lived for that momentary pleasure but they did not consider eternity or the purposes of God.
Beyond this, they were also disobedient to the Word of God. They were deceived by the glitter and passion of this world. They felt that their purpose and meaning was to be found in the satisfaction of their fleshly appetites. They were slaves to those pleasures and appetites. They lived to please themselves but that pleasure only lasted for a moment.
They were malicious toward each other. They sought to outdo one another. They deceived and lied to each other. Because of their actions they were hated and they hated each other. Their only concern was for themselves. They would step over each other in their attempt to get what they wanted.
Paul reminded the Cretans in verse 4 of how everything changed when the kindness and love of the Lord God was demonstrated to them through the Lord Jesus. He did not come to them because they were good (verse 5). He came to them at their worst. He came to a society of liars and deceivers. He came to a people who hated each other and were constantly trying to outdo each other.
When the Lord Jesus revealed himself to the Cretans, he saved them by the "washing of rebirth," and the "renewal of the Holy Spirit." He washed the Cretans. They were stained by sin and evil. The Lord Jesus came and took away their sins. He cleansed them and forgave them. He put his Holy Spirit in them and gave them a new life. That new life was the life of the Holy Spirit who was living in them and renewing them day by day. Their thoughts were being transformed. They no longer took delight in the things they used to do. They became a new people, washed from their sins and renewed by the Spirit of God poured out on them.
God did this for the Cretans so that being forgiven from sin, they could be justified by his grace. To be justified is to be declared right with God. The Cretans could only be made right with God when the obstacle of their sin was removed. Jesus took away the barrier of sin in their lives so that they could be restored to a right relationship with the Father. These lying and evil Cretans, who were forgiven of their sins, became heirs of eternal life and all God’s blessings (verse 7).
Paul reminded the Cretans that having received such grace, their only legitimate response was to devote themselves to doing good (verse 8). God’s grace and mercy were to be the motivation for their service. What greater motivation could we have? The only true motivation for serving God is love and thanksgiving for what he has done for us. When this is our motivation, even when things get difficult, we can keep going. We devote our-selves to him because of his mercy toward us. We are so thankful for what he has done; we willingly surrender all we have in return.
When we came to know the Lord Jesus things were radically changed in our lives. This does not mean that we don’t have to continue working on things in our lives. While salvation declares us to be in a right standing with God, it does not make us perfect. In verse 9, Paul told the Cretans that they were to avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, arguments and quarrels about the law. These discussions were not profitable for the body of Christ but only created division. The unbelieving world looked at the church and saw division and controversy. Paul challenged the church in Crete to put aside these differences.
Titus was to deal with these individuals who were divisive (verse 10). The divisive person was to be warned. If he did not listen, he was to be warned a second time. If after two warnings he did not listen, he was to be removed from the fellowship of the church so that he would not continue to divide and cause controversy. According to Paul, this sort of individual was living in sin and condemned himself by his critical and divisive words and actions (verse 11).
In his closing remarks to Titus, Paul demonstrated something of the love the Lord God had put in his heart for the body of Christ. Paul told Titus that he was sending Artemas or Tychicus to encourage him in the work. He also wanted Titus to do his best to come to him. Paul's love and concern for Titus is obvious.
In verse 13, Paul encouraged Titus to do everything he could to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos (verse 13). He, along with his fellow believers were to provide these brothers with all they needed as they ministered for the Lord in their midst.
The people of God were to devote themselves to doing good. They were to do this by working to provide for the daily necessities of the body and by living productive lives. They were to use their gifts, time and resources for the sake of the kingdom of God and the good of his church.
Paul concluded by sending the greetings of those who were with him, asking Titus to greet those who loved them in the faith.
* Have you ever found yourself criticizing those who are in authority over you? What does Paul have to say to us about this?
* Does your church consider the needs of others around them? Give some examples.
* What change has the Lord Jesus made in your relationships with others?
* What should be our principle motivation for service to the Lord?
* Are there evidences of division in the body of Christ? What are they? Why is it so important to deal with these issues?
* Ask the Lord to open your eyes to the needs of those around you.
* Ask the Lord to break down those walls that divide true believers today.
* Thank the Lord for the wonderful change he made in your life when you came to know him.
* Ask him to help you to do good and be an example to those around you.
Paul introduces himself as the author of this letter in Philemon 1:1, and wrote it in his own handwriting (verse 19). At the time of writing Paul was a prisoner in Rome (see 1:1; 1:9).
The letter is addressed to a man by the name of Philemon a believer, likely converted under the ministry of the apostle Paul, (Philemon 1:19) living in Colossae. Philemon was a wealthy man and slave owner. It appears from Philemon 1:1-2 that the church was meeting in his home.
This is a personal letter written by Paul to Philemon regarding an escaped slave that had come to Rome. The slave’s name was Onesimus. He had apparently been converted under the ministry of Paul and the apostle was returning him to his master. In this letter, Paul pleads for the life of Onesimus and asks Philemon to treat him with respect even though he had run away from him. Paul offers to personally pay for any loss Philemon may have incurred as a result of Onesimus’ escape.
According to Colossians 4:7-9, Onisimus returned to his master with Tychicus, who likely carried Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
The Importance of the Book for Today:
The letter of Paul to Philemon contains several important lessons for us in our day. Paul reminded Philemon that though Onesimus had escaped from him, God had sovereignly brought him to Paul who introduced him to Jesus. What appeared to be a terrible situation was used by God to bring great good. We need to be reminded today that our God is sovereign over the circumstances of our lives and will work out his purposes.
The second great lesson in this letter has to do with the relationship between Paul, Onesimus and Philemon. Philemon was a slave owner and a wealthy man. Onesimus was a slave. Paul treated them both as brothers. He did not see Onesimus as inferior to his master in any way.
While Paul did not expect that Philemon promote Onesimus to another job, he did ask him to accept him as a brother in Christ. This shows us that while there is equality in the body of Christ not all members of that body have the same role to play. Paul expected Onesimus to return to his master and be the best servant he could possibly be now that he had come to know the Lord Jesus. Paul also expected that Philemon would treat his slave with dignity and respect. This speaks directly to anyone who struggles with the role God has given them today.
Read Philemon 1:1-7
The letter to Philemon is a personal letter from Paul, the apostle, to a man by the name of Philemon from Colossae. The letter concerned Philemon's personal slave who had escaped and had since come to know the Lord. Philemon had very likely come to faith in the Lord Jesus through the ministry of the apostle Paul. It is for this reason that Paul felt quite free to write to him about his escaped slave.
Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. Notice how he called himself a prisoner of Christ. We get the impression that Paul is proud of this title. He was not ashamed to be a prisoner for Christ. This says a lot about Paul. He had come to terms with his imprisonment. He had accepted what had happened to him and was proud to be imprisoned for the sake of the gospel.
Notice that this letter also comes from Timothy (verse 1). He was a co-worker of Paul and his son in the Lord. Timothy supported Paul at this time in his life.
The letter is addressed to Philemon, who Paul refers to here as a dear friend and fellow worker. Greetings also go to Apphia and Archippus. We read about Archippus in Colossians 4:17 where he is challenged to complete the work the Lord has given him to do. Many commentators believe Apphia is the wife of Philemon and Archippus his son. This seems to fit the context as these individuals seem to live together. Paul sent his greetings to the church that met in their house (verse 2).
Obviously, Philemon was a man of some wealth. He had slaves and a home that was big enough to hold meetings of believers. The fact that Philemon had slaves should not surprise us as this was very much a part of the culture of the day.
Paul greeted Philemon and his family and wished them God's grace (unmerited favour) and peace. Peace was important to the apostle. He often mentions this in his greetings. Peace is a sign of a good relationship with the Lord Jesus and a faithful and pure walk with God. There is no real lasting peace outside of forgiveness and obedience to God.
Notice how Paul told Philemon that he always thanked God for him as he remembered him in his prayers. When God brought individuals to his mind, Paul would thank God or pray for them particularly. How many times in the course of a day does the Lord bring individuals to your mind? As Paul remembered people, he committed them to the Lord in prayer. Sometimes he simply thanked the Lord for them.
Paul was thankful to the Lord because he heard about the faith of Philemon and his love for the saints. The love Paul speaks of here is not merely a feeling. Philemon was demonstrating his love not in words or feelings only but also in practical deeds. He was likely caring for the needs of those around him. He appeared to be a man of certain wealth. He was likely using his wealth for the glory of the Lord in the lives of the people in his community. In verse 7, Paul was grateful to Philemon because he had been used of God to “refresh the hearts of the saints.” It may be that his practical expressions of love and kindness lifted up their spirits and enabled them to continue in ministry.
Paul prayed that Philemon would continue to be active in sharing his faith in word and in deed so that he would have a full understanding of all the good things he had in Christ. Who among us has not experienced fullness and joy in giving? As we give to others, we ourselves experience the fullness of God’s joy and presence. We are richer for giving. We are satisfied in being his servant. This is what we are called to do. By using his gifts, Philemon would know a deeper fullness.
Already the practical expressions of Philemon's love had been a great blessing to the body of Christ. Paul's heart was filled with joy when he heard of how Philemon had refreshed many saints by his generosity and kindness. Philemon was not out on the front lines preaching the gospel like Paul, but he did have a very important role to play in the use of the resources God had given him. There are many ways we can share our faith. Not every-one is called to preach. God has also called some to “refresh the hearts of the saints” by demonstrating the love of Christ in practical ways.
* What was Paul's attitude toward being in prison? Do you have a similar attitude in your difficulties and trials?
* Do you have peace with God in your heart today? What can take that peace away?
* What does Paul teach us about expressing our love in practical ways? How have you shown your love to your family, friends and acquaintances?
* How does Philemon share his faith in this pas-sage? In what other ways besides preaching can we share our faith?
* How can you refresh the hearts of the saints to-day?
* Has the Lord been putting someone on your mind today? Take a moment to pray for that individual.
* Ask the Lord to show you how you can practically demonstrate your love to someone today.
* What trial are you going through today? Ask the Lord to guard your attitude so that it reflects his heart and character.
Read Philemon 1:8-25
In the first part of this letter, we met Philemon and his family. We saw how the apostle Paul considered him to be a friend and fellow worker in the Lord. Paul com-mended Philemon for how he had been such a blessing to the saints.
Paul had a very particular purpose for writing to Philemon. As an apostle, Paul had a certain right. He reminded Philemon that he could have been bold in the Lord and ordered him to do what was right but he chose instead to appeal to him on the basis of love and compassion (something for which Philemon was known). Notice also that Paul appealed to Philemon as an old man and prisoner for Jesus Christ (verse 9). In other words, if Philemon had respect for Paul's position, age and work, he would listen to Paul's request. This is the basis for Paul's request of Philemon.
Paul could easily have pushed his opinion on Philemon. He had authority and position in the church. There are leaders today who are quite willing to push their views on others. It is one thing to have authority and another to know how to use that authority. Authority does not mean that we demand to have our way. Nor does it give us the right to force people into submission. Paul did not want Philemon to respond out of duty or obligation. He wanted him to respond out of love because it was the right thing to do.
Notice that Paul's request has to do with Philemon's runaway slave, a man by the name of Onesimus. "Onesimus" means "useful or profitable,” but Onesimus had let Philemon, his master, down.
Somehow the slave, Onesimus had come to see Paul. Paul did not explain the details of how he met Onesimus, but the results of their meeting are clear. Onesimus came to know the Lord Jesus as his Saviour and proved to be quite useful to Paul in his imprisonment. Paul called him a son.
It is important that we notice the relationship between Paul and Onesimus. Paul considered him to be his son. Onesimus was a runaway slave. Socially, he was on the bottom of the pile. Paul did not see social standing here. He looked beyond the slavery and saw a real man. He saw Onesimus as the Lord Jesus saw him. How easy it is for us to look down on certain individuals who do not have the same social standing as we do. Maybe they come from a different tribe or people group. Paul does not see race, color or social standing. All he sees is real people and real needs. Onesimus was his son in the Lord. He loved him and cared for him as if he were his very own flesh and blood.
We have already mentioned that the name Onesimus means "useful or profitable." Paul told Philemon that his slave had been "useless" to him. He had run away and proven to be a real problem for his master. Now that he had met the Lord, however, he could really live up to his name. He could be useful not only to Paul but also to Philemon, his master. What a wonderful change the gospel can make in the hearts and lives of God's people. Onesimus was forever changed by the wonderful message of hope the gospel brought. Jesus had transformed his life. He who was formerly a useless slave now be-came a powerful tool for the cause of the gospel.
Paul told Philemon that he was sending Onesimus back to him. He reminded Philemon that he loved Onesimus dearly (verse 12). This statement would have carried some weight with Philemon. Upon hearing how the apostle Paul felt toward his slave, Philemon would think twice about how to treat him now that he had returned.
We need to say here that Paul was not condoning slavery when he sent Onesimus back to his master. He was however, teaching him a very important lesson. It would not have been easy for Onesimus to see his master Philemon again. Paul felt it was very important for Onesimus and Philemon to resolve their differences. Onesimus could not progress further in his walk with the Lord until he had been reconciled with his master. Philemon could not advance either until he had forgiven Onesimus. We need to deal with our broken relationships. We dare not have an unforgiving heart toward a brother or sister in Christ lest it hinder our walk with God.
Paul sent Onesimus back to deal with his relationship with Philemon. He reminded Philemon that he would have liked to keep him because he had been very helpful to him in his imprisonment (verse 13). He did not want to keep him, however, without Philemon's consent. He sent him back to Philemon so that Philemon could decide freely what to do with him.
In verse 15, Paul reminded Philemon that there was a purpose in what had happened. Onesimus had escaped from his master but God had a purpose. The result of Onesimus' escape was obvious. He had come to know the Lord and would now prove to be a wonderful servant in the household of Philemon. God needed to take him apart for a time to work on him. The man returning to Philemon was not the same man he was when he had run away. He left as a slave but now returned as a brother in the Lord. He was a brother that Paul considered to be very dear.
Philemon was to welcome Onesimus as he would welcome Paul. The apostle considered Onesimus to be a partner with him in the cause of the gospel. In verse 18, Paul promised that if Onesimus had done anything wrong or owed him anything, he would pay for it.
From verse 19 we see that Paul wrote this promise to Philemon in his own handwriting. Having done this, Paul was making his promise official and legal. He bound himself to Onesimus legally and took on the responsibility to pay for his debts. He reminded Philemon, however, that he owed Paul his life (likely a reference to the fact that Philemon had come to Christ through Paul’s minis-try). The apostle pleaded with Philemon to bless him by doing what was right. He was confident that Philemon would do even more than he had asked (verse 21). Paul reminded him of his intention to come to see him and asked that a guest room be prepared. He trusted that God would restore him to freedom in answer to the prayers of many saints.
Paul concluded his letter with greetings from Epaphras who was in prison with him (verse 23). He also sends greetings from Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke who were workers with him for the cause of the gospel.
Paul's desire for Philemon was that the grace of Christ be with his spirit. It is fitting that Paul mention this to Philemon in this letter. It was grace that Jesus demonstrated in forgiving and accepting Philemon. Paul's prayer is that Philemon would demonstrate this same grace in his relationship with his slave Onesimus.
* What does Paul’s dealing with Philemon teach us about giving people freedom to differ and to make up their own mind? Have you ever tried to force change rather than trust God?
* What relationship did Paul have with Onesimus the slave? What does this teach us? Who are the people you struggle to love?
* What change has the Lord Jesus made in your life since you have come to know him?
* How important is it to seek reconciliation with our brother or sister in Christ? How does an unforgiving spirit affect our walk with God?
* What do we learn about how God can use what appears to be terrible to accomplish his purpose?
* Ask the Lord to give you grace to forgive those who have offended you.
* Ask the Lord to forgive you for the times you have tried to force your way on others. Ask him to give you patience in your dealings with them.
* Ask the Lord to help you to see people like he does and not according to their race or social standing.
* Thank the Lord that whatever happens to us he can use for his glory and our good.
The author of this book is unknown. There have been many suggestions as to a possible author (Silas, Barnabas, Apollos or Paul), but there is no indication in this book of its author. The most popular opinion about the authorship is that it was Paul but we do not have any proof of this.
We understand from the context that this book was written to Jewish converts to Christianity. The language of the book suggests that the readers had a good grasp of the Jewish religion and traditions. It is also evident that they had suffered for their new found faith in the Lord Jesus (see Hebrews 10:32-34; 12:2-4: 13:3). At the time the letter was written, the faith of these readers in Christ had suffered (possibly as a result of their persecution). They had not made any significant progress in their spiritual lives (5:11-14). They were being tempted by the world and its attractions, and the author challenges them to keep themselves from the love of money (13:5). Some were falling into false teachings (13:9) and others seem to have lost respect for their spiritual leaders (13:17). Others had completely given up meeting with other Christians (10:25). It appears that there was a general discouragement among these believers.
In this letter, the author points his readers to the person and work of the Lord Jesus. He reminds them that he was superior to the angels of heaven, to Moses and even the Law of God that came through Moses. He shows how the Lord Jesus came as a High Priest of a totally new order with new regulations and a new covenant. All of the Old Testament pointed to him and to the work he would do. Through his work, we are set free from the Old Testament law. Faith in his work was now is all that mattered.
Having pointed his readers to the person of the Lord Jesus, the author then encourages them, in light of what he had done, to put their confidence in Christ and his work, to persevere and be willing to endure even more hardships for his sake.
The Importance of the Book for Today:
In the midst of discouragement and lack of spiritual passion, the author pointed his readers to the person of the Lord Jesus and his work. These believers were getting caught up in laws and traditions but were not satisfied. Only a new vision of Christ and what he had done could restore that passion and commitment. Surely this is true for us today as well. Hebrews points us to the Lord Jesus. In seeing him afresh we are encouraged and restored in faith and passion.
The book of Hebrews is a very important book for what it shows us about the person of the Lord Jesus and the superiority of his work to the Law of Moses. It teaches us that he is a priest of a totally new order. Believers are no longer obligated to the Law of Moses and its regulations and requirements. The way of salvation is through the work of our new High Priest who perfectly fulfills all the requirements of the Old Testament and releases us from the penalty and guilt of sin.
One of the problems that the Hebrew believers were facing was that they had never really matured in their new found faith in Christ. They seemed to be stuck on the Law and their old ways of living. This letter challenges us to consider what the work of the Lord Jesus really changed for us. It challenges us to examine our lives to see if we are living in the light of the great work Christ accomplished on the cross of Calvary.
Read Hebrews 1:1-14
The authorship of the book of Hebrews has long been debated and it is not my intention in a devotional commentary to enter into this discussion. What is clear is the intention of the book. It is written to Jewish believers. Its purpose is to show these Jewish Christians the place of the Law of Moses in the Christian faith.
The author begins by reminding his readers how in the past, God spoke to his people through the prophets. God would speak to the prophets in various ways. Sometimes the word of the Lord would come to the prophet in a dream. Sometimes it would come in an audible voice. At other times, God would speak through pictures and symbols. Prophets were powerfully used to communicate the heart of God during both the Old and New Testament periods. Only select individuals had this kind of communion with God.
In verse 2, however, the writer to the Hebrews told his readers that in these last days, (days after the first coming of Christ) God chose to speak to his people through his Son, the Lord Jesus. The author of the book of Hebrews seemed to be overwhelmed by this thought. Through the work of Jesus Christ we can all enter a very personal and intimate relationship with God. We have direct access to the Father through his Son. All barriers are removed.
The thought of what Christ had done, seemed to result in a welling up of praise and thanksgiving in the heart of the author of this book. In the course of the next few verses he describes for us this wonderful person of Christ who has broken down the barrier between God and his people.
He has been Appointed Heir of all Things (verse 2)
God the Father has appointed his Son Jesus Christ to be the heir of all things. The imagery here is one of a father handing all he has over to his son. Jesus, by his work on the cross, bought back a people for himself. He conquered sin and death. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. To him every knee must bow. God has given him a place of honour. He is Lord of all. Everything must submit to him and his will.
He Created the World (verse 2)
Notice that God created the universe through his Son Jesus. Jesus, as the Son of God, was involved in the creation of the universe. It belongs to him and everything in it owes its existence to his creative work with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
The Radiance of God's Glory (verse 3)
Jesus is the radiance of God's glory. He reflected perfectly the character of God on this earth. Verse 3 tells us that he was an exact representation of God's being. In other words, he showed us perfectly who God is. If you want to know about God, all you have to do is look at the Lord Jesus. He demonstrated God to us. He is the exact image of God in character. He is God.
Sustains all Things by His Word (verse 3)
The Lord Jesus not only has been given the lordship over all things but he sustains all things by his powerful word. We owe everything to the Lord Jesus. He gives us life, both spiritually and physically. One simple word from his lips and the storm stops. One word from his lips and demons flee. He gives us life and breath. Our lives are in his hands. The future of this world is in his hands. Without him we could not exist.
He Provided Purification for Sin (verse 3)
We have already seen that the Lord Jesus came to this earth to rescue us from sin and its effects. His death on the cross paid the penalty that was required and legally set us free from condemnation. In him, we have been forgiven and purified from the contamination of sin and evil. Through the work of the Lord Jesus, we can stand before God clean and pure. The deadly stain of sin has been removed.
He Sat Down at the Right Hand of God (verse 3)
After the Lord Jesus had accomplished his work on the cross, he rose to be with his Father. Notice in verse 3 that he now sits at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. The right hand was the place of honour. He was given this place of honour in the heaven because he had perfectly accomplished the work his Father had sent him to do. He provided purification for sin and set his people free from sin’s consequences. For this he was lifted up to the place of honour. He is worthy of our praise and thanksgiving.
Superior to the Angels (verse 4)
The Jews of Bible times had a very high opinion of angels. Angels were heavenly beings who lived in the presence of God and were his representatives on earth. In some cases, angels were even worshipped (see Paul’s warning in Colossians 2:18). The author of the book of Hebrews understood the cultural feeling toward angels. He reminded his readers here, however, that the Lord Jesus was much superior to any of the angels. This included those of highest rank in heaven. He goes on in the next verses to explain this more fully.
Christ is superior to the angels in name (verse 4). To prove this the author quotes Psalm 2:7 in verse 5:
For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father"? Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son"?
While the angels of heaven had an important role to play, the Father never once called any of them his Son. This special honour was given only to the Lord Jesus. It demonstrates to us that, in the mind of God, the Lord Jesus was vastly superior in name and rank to any of the angels. He called him his son because Christ shared his exact nature.
There is another reason why Jesus is superior to the angels. In verse 6, we are told that God demanded that the angels of heaven fall down and worship his firstborn Son. If angels are called to bow down to worship the Lord Jesus, then it is quite obvious that he is superior to them and worthy of their praise.
When God spoke to angels he called them winds or flames of fire (see verse 7). The wind and the fire are powerful elements in nature. Not one of us doubts the power of the wind in a cyclone, hurricane or tornado. We have also seen the powerfully destructive force of fire. In calling the angels "winds" and "fires", God is showing us that they are given great power. Having said this about the angels, however, the writer to the Hebrews went on to tell his readers that the throne of the Lord Jesus would last forever. Righteousness would be the sceptre of his kingdom. He even called his son “God” in verse 8. While the angels are powerful winds and fires, the Son is seated on the throne as God, ruling in absolute righteousness and authority. His angels are powerful servants but Jesus is the King whose kingdom and power would last forever.
Because the Lord Jesus loved righteousness and hated wickedness, God set him up above all other names. He anointed him with the oil of joy. In other words, this was a joyous anointing of power and authority. He would rule as God in power and authority over his creation. Again the Lord Jesus was superior to the angels in his anointing.
Jesus is also superior to the angels in his work of creating the world. As God, he had no beginning. He laid the foundations of the earth. He created the world as we know it (verse 10). This world will one day come to an end. It will wear out like an old garment but the Lord Jesus will remain forever. Time will never change the Lord Jesus. Jesus existed in the beginning. He created the world. He will live forever. Which of the angels could claim this?
Never once did the Lord God ask any of his angels to sit at his right hand (verse 13). That place of honour was reserved for the Lord Jesus alone. Angels were ministering servants. They were sent by the Lord Jesus to minister to those who belonged to him (verse 14). Jesus sat as God at the right hand of the father. The angels served his purpose by ministering to his children. Again we see how the Lord Jesus is superior to any angel.
The writer to the Hebrews began his book by making a very powerful statement about the Lord Jesus. There can be no question in the mind of the reader that the Lord Jesus is the Son of God. He is greater than the angels of heaven and worthy of praise.
* What is the barrier between God and man? How does this affect our communication with God?
* How does the Lord Jesus open the door for us to communicate with God?
* What difference have you seen in your ability to know and communicate with God now that you have accepted the Lord Jesus?
* How is Christ greater than the angels?
* What do we learn in this chapter about angels and their role?
* Thank the Lord Jesus that he came to open up the way to God through the forgiveness of sin.
* Thank the Lord that he never changes.
* Thank God for his ministering angels.
* Take a moment to worship and praise the Lord Jesus for what he has done and who he is.
Read Hebrews 2:1-9
In the first chapter we saw how the author of the book of Hebrews compared the angels to the Lord Jesus Christ. He reminded his readers that while the angels were powerful servants of God, Jesus Christ was the King and Lord of all. The angels were his servants. Jesus is far superior to the angels. In this next section we will examine the teaching of the book of Hebrews concerning angels and man.
The reader is challenged, in verse 1, to pay careful attention to what he has heard so that he would not drift away. We need to see the connection between this verse and what we have seen in chapter 1. In chapter 1, we saw how that while in times past, the Lord God spoke to us through the prophets but now speaks to us through the Lord Jesus and his work. He reminds us that the Lord Jesus is far superior to the angels of heaven or any other messenger of God. He is the Lord of lords and the King of kings. He is the creator of the universe and our Savior. It is in this context that we must understand verse 1. The superiority of Christ and his work over all things is the truth we must never drift away from.
Notice that the possibility exists for us to drift from this truth. Remember that the enemy has always tried to cast doubt on the clear teaching of the Word of God. This was what he did in the Garden of Eden and he is still doing it in our day. If we do not want to drift from the clear teaching about Jesus and his Word we must pay careful attention. The enemy will come in very subtle ways to distract us. We may not even notice his presence as he seeks to have us compromise in key areas of truth. We must always be on the alert. There is a battle waging now over truth. We are called to take up arms, to be alert and pay careful attention lest the enemy lure us from that sure foundation on which we stand.
In verses 2 and 3, the author reminded his readers that if a message spoken by angels was binding and every disobedience was punished, how much greater the punishment would be if we disregard the word of the Lord God himself. Throughout the Bible we see how the Lord God sent his angels to warn his people. We have, for example, the message that was communicated to Lot in the city of Sodom (see Genesis 19). The angel told Lot that God was going to destroy the city. What would have happened had Lot ignored that message? There was another time when the angel of the Lord was sent to warn Joseph that the king was seeking to kill the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:13). He was told to leave that region. What would have happened if Joseph had ignored this word? The word of an angel was taken seriously. If this is the case with the word of an angel, how much more serious would it be to ignore the word of the Lord Jesus who is in himself vastly superior to any angel.
In verse 3, the author reminds us that the message of salvation came to us through the work and ministry of the Lord Jesus. If the message of an angel was to be ignored at the peril of losing one’s life, how much more important it is that we take to heart the message of the Lord Jesus about our need of salvation.
The message of salvation the Lord Jesus brought to us was confirmed by those who heard it (verse 3). Not only did certain individuals hear it personally from the mouth of the Lord Jesus but they also testified to the reality of that salvation. Their lives were changed. They were witnesses to the truth of the message he spoke.
This message of salvation was also confirmed by great signs and wonders from God. God proved to all who would listen, the truth of what Jesus said by demonstrating his powerful works through the Lord Jesus and his servants. All these signs and miracles were to confirm and compliment the message of salvation given through Christ. They proved that it was from God and to be taken seriously.
There could be no questioning this message Christ brought. It was spoken and confirmed by those who heard it. It was also confirmed through the wonderful signs and miracles performed by those who preached it. God did everything possible to authenticate the truth of this message. He continues to do so in our day as well. He continues to call and powerfully equip his servants to preach and demonstrate it. He has preserved it for us in the Scriptures we have today. Countless lives continue to be changed. To ignore it is to ignore a message that God has proven to be true over and over again.
Having reminded his readers of the absolute truth and seriousness of the word given us through Christ, the author moved on in verse 5, to speak about the people to whom this wonderful message came. This message did not come to the angels of heaven but to human beings like you and me. The salvation message given to human beings was a message of forgiveness of sin and a future reigning with Christ. He made it clear that this promise of reigning with Christ was not given to angels but to human beings. Human beings have a special place in the heart of God. They are the focus of his work and the message of salvation he came to bring. It is for us as human beings that the Lord Jesus came to this earth. It is for human beings that God is preparing a place in heaven. It is in the service of humans that God sends his angels.
This idea that God would focus on human beings is sometimes very difficult to understand. Even the Psalmist marveled at the thought that humans should be at the center of God's heart. Quoting from Psalm 8:4-6, the author of the book of Hebrews writes in verses 6-8:
What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.
Notice what the writer is pointing out here. He is baffled by the fact that God would notice human beings and care for them. Who are we that God would care for us in this way? The Psalmist wonders what it was that God saw in man that he should honor him so much. He is amazed at how God cares for sinful men and women. They must be special to God for him to offer them such a salvation. They must have a high value in his eyes that he would be willing to die for them? We will never understand what God sees in us but we need to understand the value that God places on our lives.
According to the Psalmist, man was made a little lower than the angels (verse 7). This is not to say that his is less important or less valuable. By saying that we were created lower, the Psalmist is reminding us of our frail humanness. We have bodies that wear down and grow tired. These bodies will one day die. We have limitations the angels do not have as heavenly beings. Having said this, however, we need to understand that when the angels of heaven fell (Satan and his demons) they were condemned forever to hell. When man fell, the Lord God sent his very own Son to die for him. Do you realize what an honor it is to be a child of God and to experience a love that not even the angels of heaven are able to experience? God did not provide a salvation for the angels who fell from heaven.
The Lord crowned weak and feeble humans with glory and honor. He came to offer him his salvation. He came to put his Holy Spirit in them. He placed all things under their feet. He gave them dominion over this earth. He sends us out in his name to proclaim the message of salvation.
The writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers that there was nothing that God has not left subject to man (verse 8). While humans are subject to God, the angels are called to minister to their needs. The earth and all it contains was given to humans to subdue and use for their own needs (Genesis 1:28). Because of sin, however, not everything has yet been subject to us. Sickness and disease as well as natural catastrophes are the result of sin in this world. From the moment sin entered the earth; it caused decay, sickness, pain, and sorrow. Human nature also has ravaged this world. Murder, abuses, theft and all sorts of crimes that come from that human nature have brought great pain and suffering. In this sin-filled earth there are many things that still need to be conquered and placed under our feet.
While not everything is completely subject to us at present, we have the comfort of Christ (see verse 9). Christ too was made a little lower than the angels, just like us. He lived and walked on this earth just like we do. He suffered all that we suffer and even more. Now however, he is crowned with glory and honor. He suffered death. He did this so that he could take our sins with him to the grave. He died so that our penalty could be paid. He overcame sin and death. Because he died, we will be able to live forever. Sin and all its effects will finally be overcome. Death, sickness and corruption, though not subject to us completely at this time, will one day be destroyed and we will live in the presence of the Lord forever.
From this passage we see the value that God places on us as human beings. He gives us a place of honor in the creation. His desire is to draw us to himself and make us more like him. What a privilege we have to be his children and the object of his wonderful love.
* What is the message that the Lord Jesus came to give?
* How has the enemy been seeking to cause you to question the truth of God? How has he been trying to do this in your society and church?
* Why is it so important for us to respond to the message that Christ came to give? How was that message confirmed to us?
* What value does God place on you? How important are you to him?
* Thank the Lord for helping you to understand the message of salvation he came to give.
* Thank the Lord for how much he loves us and made us the center of his attention.
* Ask God to enable you to make him the center of your attention.
* Thank the Lord for his victory over sin and death. Ask him to give you strength and grace to walk in victory as well.
Read Hebrews 2:10-18
We have been speaking in this chapter about the special relationship that exists between God and his people. This is a relationship that even the angels of heaven have not experienced. Though they were created a little higher than human beings they do not have the same privileges. The author develops this point more fully in the remainder of chapter 2.
We were reminded in verses 7 and 8 that the Lord God crowned his people with glory and put everything under their feet. He did this by removing the obstacle to that glory. He sent his Son, to pay the penalty for our sins. Jesus took on human flesh and lived among us. He suffered and was tempted just like us. He faced these obstacles and overcame every one of them so that we could come to faith in him and know the joy of his salvation and an inheritance with the Father.
Notice in verse 10 that the author of our salvation (the Lord Jesus) was made perfect through suffering. This verse at first glance can be difficult to understand. The Lord Jesus, as God, was perfect. Remember however, that as a man, he had to face all the temptations we faced. As a young child, he had to learn and grow just as we would. As he grew up, he needed to mature physically, emotionally and spiritually. He needed to learn about his heavenly father and grow in his love for him. He had to learn these things just like any child his age. God chose to mature and perfect his Son through the things he faced on this earth. He allowed temptations and trials to refine him just as he does for us.
By coming to earth and facing the pain and suffering that we ourselves face, the Lord Jesus identified with us perfectly. He became our brother in every sense of the word. He had flesh and blood like we do. He suffered hunger and thirst like we do. He felt pain and disappointment. He needed to learn and develop physically, emotionally and spiritually like we do. While today he is in heaven, he is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters. We are part of his family.
To underline this point, the author quotes from two Old Testament Scriptures. While these passages were written before the Lord Jesus came to this earth, they were prophetic in nature and spoke about the relationship between the Lord Jesus as the Messiah and his people. The writer quotes these verses to show his Jewish readers that what he was telling them about Jesus was based solidly in the Old Testament Scriptures.
The first passage is from Psalm 22:22 and is quoted in verse 12:
He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises”
The Lord, speaking through the Psalmist, says that he would declare the name of the Father to “his brothers.” How could the Messiah have brothers? In the Jewish mind, to consider God a brother would have been blasphemous. The only way the Lord God could be a brother to us is if he took on human flesh and shared in our nature. This passage proved to the writer to the Hebrews that the Lord Jesus would become a man just like us.
The second passage quoted in verse 13 is from Isaiah 8:17, 18:
And again, “I will put my trust in him." And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”
There are two things we need to see in this quote from Isaiah in verse 13. Notice first how the writer spoke of putting his trust in God. We have been speaking here in this passage about how the Lord Jesus took on our flesh and suffered like we did. How was he able to face that suffering? He did so by placing his trust in God the Father. We are reminded of how Christ, identifying with us in suffering, put his confidence in God, his father. Again, the author’s purpose is to show his readers that the Lord Jesus had to suffer according to Old Testament prophecy.
The second point we need to see in this quote from Isaiah is what his suffering accomplished. When this suffering was over the Lord Jesus was able to say to his Father: “Here am I and the children God has given me” The image I get here is of a wife, who has just gone through the tremendous struggle of childbirth, taking her baby in her arms and introducing him with great delight to the father saying, “here is the child God has given me.”
This is exactly what the Lord did. He came to this earth, suffered on the cross and through his suffering brought life to all the father had given him. Those who accept the work of Christ become children of God. Christ is pleased, after suffering for them, to present them to their father as his children. The whole point of these Old Testament quotes is to show the reader that the Lord Jesus, as the prophesied Messiah, is proud to call us his brothers. Like a mother presenting her child to her friends and loved ones, Jesus proudly calls his brothers and sisters.
We are also reminded of the great cost Jesus paid for us to become children of God. Jesus had to take on flesh and blood and die a terrible death. In that flesh, the Lord Jesus faced our great enemies Satan and death. Although he knew all the weaknesses and temptations we know, Jesus conquered Satan and the grave to set us free from their power.
From the time Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, we were all held under the power of death. Jesus broke death’s power over us. He set us free from the fear of death and the judgment that is to come. Now we can face the grave with assurance that it is not the end. There is a hope of eternity beyond the grave in the presence of the Lord Jesus. Death now for the children of God is a stepping stone into the presence of God. There is no more fear of judgment for the believer. Its terror has been destroyed because sin has been conquered and forgiven.
The writer to the Hebrews stands amazed as he reflects on what the Lord Jesus did for human beings. He re-minded his reader in verse 16 that the Lord Jesus never did such a thing for the angels. The Lord never laid aside his divine nature to become like one of the angels. Those angels who fell with Satan from heaven are eternally lost (see Jude 1:6). The Lord left them in their sin. He did not come to their rescue. What a privilege we have to be his brothers and children. What incredible love he demonstrated to us that he should give up everything, call us brothers and sisters and rescue us from eternal damnation.
Verse 17 tells us that Jesus was made like us in every way so that he could identify with us perfectly. He suffered what we suffered so that he could be a merciful High Priest for us. Sometimes the only way we can identify with people is to face what they face. When we struggle with something we can better understand those who face that same struggle. Jesus understands us because he faced what we faced. He is a brother in suffering and temptation. He is compassionate and understanding because he understands us. He learned this by suffering what we suffered.
Christ’s suffering and death had another purpose. It brought atonement for our sins (verse 17). In other words, it covered the legal penalty required for our sins and restored us to a right relationship with God. In the Old Testament, sins had to be covered by the death of a lamb or bull. The lamb or bull offered could not have any visible defects. Jesus, by becoming a man and living a perfect life before the father, was a perfect sacrifice for our sin. As sinful human beings, not one of us was an acceptable sacrifice. Only the sacrifice of the perfect Son of Man could satisfy the demands of justice and pay the penalty of sin in full. By becoming one of us, Jesus could make atonement as a perfect sacrifice so that we could be restored to the father.
His suffering brings us into a right relationship with God. It also shows us that he can identify with us in our temptations and trials. Whatever you are facing today, the Lord Jesus has faced before you. Not only has he faced your temptation but he has also conquered it. He knows how to defeat that temptation and trial. He knows how to help you if you will come to him and ask. He considers you a brother or sister. You can be sure that he will give you the help you need to live for the glory of his Father.
* What does the writer to the Hebrews mean when he tells us that the author of our salvation needed to be perfected?
* What did it mean for the Lord Jesus to lay aside his divine nature?
* In what way can we call Jesus our brother?
* How did the Lord Jesus remove the power and terror of death?
* How does the relationship believers have with the Lord differ from the relationship the angels enjoy?
* Thank the Lord for his wonderful love for us as his brothers and sisters.
* Thank him that he can identify with us in every way and that he has experienced our temptations and trials.
* Thank him that he has removed all terror of death by paying the penalty for our sin.
* Ask the Lord to help you to understand more fully the relationship he wants to have with you today.
* Thank the Lord of the great price he was willing to pay for your salvation.
Read Hebrews 3:1-6
In the last part of chapter 2, we saw how the Lord God crowned human beings with glory and honor. We were reminded of how the Lord Jesus took on human nature, identifying with us in all our pain and temptations. He willingly laid down his life on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. The writer to the Hebrews told his readers, in verse 1, that those who shared in this heavenly calling needed to fix their thoughts on the Lord Jesus. In other words, they needed to make the Lord Jesus the focus of their thoughts and actions. Because of what he has done for us, he needs to be the Lord of our lives. We need to surrender to him and his purposes.
Notice in verse 1 that Jesus is the apostle and high priest that we confess as believers. The apostles were specifically chosen to be the founders of the early church. They were God's instruments to open up new territory and establish others in the Christian life and service. The Lord Jesus exercised the role of apostle in that it was he who went before breaking down the power of the enemy. He was the founder and head of this wonderful kingdom of God.
Not only did the Lord Jesus act as an apostle but also as our high priest. The high priest was the one who stood between God and man. He offered the daily sacrifices to God. In a very real sense, the Lord Jesus did this for us. He laid down his life as a perfect sacrifice so that the penalty for our sin could be paid in full. He bridged the gap between God and man and brought us into the presence of the Father. It is this Jesus we confess and consider in all we do. As an apostle he established his kingdom on this earth. As a high priest he bridged the gap between God and man.
In verse 2, the writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers that the Lord Jesus was faithful to the one who had appointed him; just as Moses was faithful to God’s house. Jesus served his Father faithfully. Not even death could keep him from being faithful to that calling. He willingly laid down his life for us in obedience to his Father’s will.
Moses was faithful to God’s call on his life as a lawgiver. Jesus, however, was worthy of greater honor than Moses (verse 3). We have already seen that the Lord Jesus was greater than the angels. The writer to the Hebrews now reminded his readers that Jesus was also greater than Moses, the lawgiver.
Moses was a very important person in the Jewish mind. As the giver of the law, he held a place of high regard. He had seen the glory of God and had been used powerfully of God in his life. Through Moses, the people of God were set free from the bondage of Egypt. God performed many mighty deeds and miracles through this man. The author of Hebrews told his readers, however, that as great as Moses was, the Lord Jesus was even greater.
We need to understand that when the writer to the Hebrews speaks about Moses he speaks about Moses’ ministry as well. Moses came to bring the law. The Lord Jesus came to bring the forgiveness of God by his sacrifice on the cross for our salvation. While the law of God given by Moses was good, it was not the final answer to the problem of sin. The Law of Moses could not save a soul nor could it change the evil human heart. Jesus came to offer a complete salvation. He came to change not just the outward actions but the heart as well.
Jesus was worthy of greater honor than Moses not only because of who he was but also because of what he accomplished. The writer to the Hebrews illustrates his point, in verse 3, by comparing a house and the builder of the house. What is more worthy of honor, the house or the one who built the house? The house may be a wonderful piece of architecture but it is the creativity and skill of the builder who put it together. The builder de-serves the credit and honor. In a similar way, the Lord Jesus, the author of our salvation, deserves full praise and thanksgiving for his wonderful work of salvation. He did what Moses could not do through the law. He bridged the gap between God and man.
Moses was a faithful servant of the house of God (verse 5). He served despite the obstacles he faced. He was not always appreciated. There were those who were jealous of his power and calling. He listened for years to the constant grumbling and complaining of his people. Some even wanted to kill him. As a prophet, he faithfully testified to what he heard from God. While Moses was faithful as a servant of the household of God, Jesus was faithful as a Son. As the Son, he was over the entire house. Moses was a servant while Jesus was the Son and Master. Jesus was higher and greater than Moses because of his position in the household of God.
Notice in verse 6 that the Hebrew readers were part of this household of God if they held on to their courage and hope. This is an important statement that merits some consideration. Some might interpret this to mean that a believer can lose his salvation if he doesn’t hold on to his hope. We need to understand, however, that this passage is not speaking about whether we can lose our salvation but rather how we can know if we are part of the family of God. In the New Testament, Jesus clearly taught that there will be many who will call out to the Lord who are not his. Churches of our day are filled with those who claim to be believers. Not all who profess the Lord Jesus are true believers.
How can you tell if someone is a true believer? The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that one of the clear characteristics of true believers is that they hold onto their courage and hope. In other words, true believers will persevere. Their hearts have been touched by God. They have been changed on the inside. They look to the Lord Jesus as their only hope. They are not distracted by the false hope of the world. The true believer is one who is faithful to the end. There are many who claim to be believers but the moment persecution comes they abandon their faith.
While Moses led the people of God in the Old Testament, he was merely a servant of the household of God. Jesus, on the other hand, is the head of the household. He willingly laid down his life to conquer all its enemies. This is something Moses could not do. Those who know this salvation of the Lord are to hold on to the hope he gives and take courage. Jesus has brought salvation. In him there is victory. We dare not put our confidence in Moses and the law he brought. Jesus alone is our confidence.
* What does it mean to consider Jesus or to fix our thoughts on the Lord Jesus? How does this affect what we do or how we live?
* How is the Lord Jesus our apostle and High Priest?
* How is Jesus greater than Moses? How is his work greater than that of Moses?
* What is the hope Christ has given us? Have you fixed your eyes on him?
* Thank the Lord that he came to offer a salvation that the Law of Moses could never offer.
* Thank the Lord for the change he brought to your heart and life when you came to him.
* Thank him for the wonderful hope he has given you, of eternity in his presence.
* Ask the Lord to help you to fix your thoughts on him in everything you do for him today.
* Ask the Lord to give you courage and perseverance in your spiritual walk. Thank him that as we fix our eyes on him, we are able to persevere.
Read Hebrews 3:7-19
There have been times in my life when I could hear that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit in my life warning me, but the pull of the flesh was so strong that I resisted the warning of the Spirit. It is the heart of the writer to the book of Hebrews that his listeners hear the truth of what he was teaching them. He was pointing them to the Lord Jesus as greater than the angels and Moses. He was showing them that the Lord Jesus came to offer a salvation that even the Law of Moses could not offer. The author cautions his readers about hardening their hearts to the important truth he was teaching them in his book.
In verse 8, the writer to the Hebrews brings the readers back in time to when the children of Israel were wandering through the desert. There were many times of rebel-lion against God in the desert. The people of God grumbled and complained against God and his ways repeatedly. They disobeyed his commandments and were defeated because of their unbelief. For over forty years, they tried and tested the patience and mercy of God by their stubborn rebellion against him and his purpose. God’s people heard the voice of that Lord God in the desert. They saw him do mighty acts in their midst. God wonderfully provided all they needed to eat and drink. He shook the mountains and descended into their midst. He opened the ground to swallow rebels. The people of God heard God in many different ways during their wanderings in the desert. While they heard God, however, they still turned their back on him and went their own way. Their hearts were continually going astray (verse 10).
This resulted in the Lord God being angry with his people. They turned to the gods of the lands they passed through. They disobeyed the laws of God. Though they had heard the ways of God, they did not follow them. This rebellion made God declare an oath against them. “They shall never enter my rest,” he promised in verse 11. For the children of Israel in the desert, this meant that they were not going to enter the land God promised to their ancestors. Many of them would die in the wilderness because of their hard hearts. In a similar way those who harden their hearts to the offer of salvation through the Lord Jesus will never enter the eternal rest God has promised.
It is for this reason that the writer to the Hebrews told his readers that they needed to be sure that none of them had an unbelieving heart that turned from God. While this warning is particularly true for the unbeliever, there are many ways that even believers can demonstrate a sinful and unbelieving heart. We can do this by listening to the flesh and its lusts. David fell into temptation and commit-ted adultery. Peter denied the Lord three times.
We can also demonstrate an unbelieving heart by our lack of faith and confidence in what God has told us. Instead of taking God at his word and walking in obedience, we can pull back and do things our own way. We must make a deliberate choice to obey and do things God’s way. Sometimes God’s way will not make sense to our human minds. Sometimes we wonder if God will really do as he promised. In the midst of the difficulties and trials of this life the temptation for some will be to turn their backs on God.
How do we avoid falling into this sin of hardening our hearts? How can we overcome the enemy and the pull of the flesh and live in absolute obedience to the Lord God? In verse 13, we are told to encourage one another as long as it is "today." In other words, as long as we are living in this world we will need to encourage each other in this regard.
The word used in verse 13 for "encourage" has a fairly broad meaning. It can mean to exhort or to comfort. It also has the sense of teaching and strengthening. In other words, if we are going to be able to face the enemy and his temptations and keep our hearts tender to the Lord, we will need the support, encouragement, comfort, and rebukes of our brothers and sisters in the faith.
Imagine one soldier trying to fight an entire army. It would be ridiculous to think that one person could face an entire army on his own, yet this is often how we live the Chris-tian life. God has called us to be members of a family. He has not given all his spiritual gifts to any one person. Instead, he has chosen to spread his gifts out in such a way that we need each other. If we are going to win this battle, we need the eyes and ears of our brothers and sisters to warn us of coming danger. We need their arms to surround us in our time of trials and failures. We need their insight and encouragement to keep us going when things get difficult. To win the battle we need each other.
As children of God we will share in the sufferings of Christ. We will be rejected by the world. We will be the target of enemy arrows. The world will not understand us, just as they did not understand the Lord Jesus. Some may have to die for their faith. The promise of verse 14, however, is that if we persevere, we will also share in Christ's glory and blessing. While there are tremendous consequences for hardening our hearts and walking in rebellion, there is also tremendous reward for those who persevere in obedience and faithfulness. How can we overcome? We have seen our need of each other in verse 13. Here in verse 14, we are reminded of the wonderful hope we have in Christ. If we want to over-come we will need to set that hope before us. We will need to remind ourselves of the promise of God to those who endure. The temporary sufferings we face cannot be compared to the wonderful blessings we have in Christ. We are to let this hope strengthen our resolve to be obedient and faithful.
The writer concludes chapter 3 by reminding his readers once more of the example of the children of Israel in the desert. They were warned not to harden their hearts to God and his purposes. For forty years in the wilderness they tested God and his patience. He endured their grumbling and complaining but those who hardened their hearts never saw the land God had promised. They died in the wilderness. They never found the rest they longed for (see verse 18). Their sinful and unbelieving hearts kept them from seeing the fullness of God's blessing. Only in faithfulness and belief can we know the full measure of God's blessing in our lives. If we want to see the fullness of God’s blessing in our lives, we will have to keep our hearts from being hardened by the world, the flesh and the devil.
* What keeps us from hearing God today?
* Have you ever found yourself resisting the call or leading of God in your life? Explain.
* What is the result of hardening our hearts to the things of God? Can a believer harden his or her heart? Explain.
* What does the writer to the Hebrews tell us about how we can protect our hearts from being hardened?
* Are there people around you whose hearts are becoming hard? What is your responsibility to them?
* Ask the Lord to show you if there is any area in your life where your heart has become hard. Ask him to break any hardness.
* Thank the Lord that while there may be struggles in life we have a wonderful hope in him.
* Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see how you can encourage a brother or sister who is going through a difficult time now.
Read Hebrews 4:1-11
The challenge of the last chapter to the Hebrews was to open their ears to the call of God and not harden their hearts to him and his purposes. They were warned of the terrible consequences of hardening their hearts to the Lord God and his truth.
In light of these consequences, the Hebrews were to be very careful lest they fell short of the rest God had promised (verse 1). Notice in verse 1 that the promise of rest still stood. In other words, the promise of salvation and peace with God could still be a reality for them. Perhaps you have wondered if you could ever have this peace with God. Maybe you have been struggling with a particular issue in your life and wonder if there is any hope of ever finding rest from this issue. The writer to the Hebrews told his readers that the promise of God’s rest was still open to them. His promise still stood. When the Lord Jesus walked on this earth he promised that all who came to him would know this rest. We read in Matthew 11:28-29:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke up-on you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
What Jesus promised when he lived on this earth is still true today. He still offers us his rest. In whatever situation we find ourselves, we can know the reality of this rest. This promise is true for those who are seeking the salvation of the Lord as well as those believers who are seeking victory over sin and its effects in their lives. God's desire is to give us his rest.
The challenge of verse 1 was not to fall short of the rest that God offers to all who come to him. What a tragedy it would be if the readers had this promise from God and yet did not experience the reality in their lives. Victory was theirs and yet they could come short of that victory. How many believers will go through life never experiencing victory over their sin, attitudes or actions? How many unbelievers will hear the message of salvation and never come to Christ? The promise still stands, but we must open our hearts to receive it. How sad it is that so many people miss the fullness of God's blessing in their lives.
Notice in verse 2 that the Jews had the message of the gospel preached to them but that message had no value in their lives because it was not combined with faith. In other words, they did not open their hearts to the message. Faith is taking God at his word. God promises his rest to us today. Take him at his word. Don't be content until you have experienced the reality of what he has promised. Don't let yourself fall short of what he has promised you today. Open up your heart to receive everything he wants to offer you.
It is those who believed who entered the rest God promised (verse 3). The rest the writer speaks about here is a rest that comes by faith. We need to examine this in greater detail.
The letter to the Hebrews was written primarily to the Jews. The rest the author spoke about here (a rest that came by faith) was foreign to the Jewish mind. In verse 3, the writer explained that the rest he spoke about was not a rest that came on the seventh day of creation. Genesis 2:2 tells us that when the Lord finished the creation of the world he rested on the seventh day. Every Sabbath day the Jews would celebrate this rest. To the Jew, the Sabbath was a very important day. To work on that day was to commit a sin worthy of death (Exodus 31:15). It would have been easy for the Jew to understand "rest" in the sense of the Sabbath. The writer to the Hebrews wanted to remind the Jews, however, that there was a greater rest than the Sabbath. To help them understand this, he quoted from Psalm 95:11: “So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.””
This passage from Psalm 95 was written about the people of God going through the wilderness. God was telling them that they would not enter the land he had promised them because of their sin. Instead, they would have to wander through the wilderness for forty years. The writer of the Hebrews went on in verse 4 to remind his readers that the rest spoken here could not refer to the Sabbath. At that time, God’s people were celebrating the Sabbath every week and would continue to do so for years to come. This meant that the rest the Psalmist spoke about in Psalm 95:11 did not refer to the Sabbath but some other form of rest.
In this particular case, the rest the psalmist was speaking about would be found in the land of Canaan (the land God had promised their ancestors). This was a rest from their wandering and bondage in the desert. It was a rest from their slavery in Egypt. The rest spoken of here was the promise of a land of their own and the blessing of God on them in that land.
The writer to the Hebrews told his readers in verse 6 that there were many, just like the people in the days of Moses, who had not yet entered the rest God promised. Though these individuals had the gospel preached to them, they did not enter in. This shows us that the rest spoken of here ultimately has to do with accepting the gospel and knowing the promise of rest with God.
David spoke prophetically in Psalm 95:7, 8 when he said to his people: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." These words were spoken by God to the people of Israel in the desert. When David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, spoke to them, however, it was not to those who had died in the wilderness, but to those who heard him in his day. He renewed this challenge of God to the people of his day. He warned them not to harden their hearts like their ancestors lest they, too, miss what God intended for them.
Some Jews may have believed that the rest the writer to the Hebrews was referring to was the rest that came when the people of God were finally set free from Egypt and entered the Promised Land. Again we need to see that entering the Promised Land was not the rest the writer to the Hebrews was speaking about. In verse 8, he told his readers that Joshua did not give them the rest God had promised. Even after Joshua had conquered the land of Canaan, the promise still went out that God was offering rest to his people. There still remained another “Sabbath-rest” for the people of God (verse 9). The rest promised came neither from the observation of the Sabbath nor by entering the land of Canaan.
According to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, those who enter the rest God spoke about, rest from their work just like God rested from his (verse 10). This is something the Jews, who were under the Law of Moses, could understand. Throughout the history of the church men and women have disciplined and denied themselves. Some have lived in isolation, inflicting all kinds of hardship on themselves in an attempt to gain a right standing before God. Over and over again, they have worked and strived and denied themselves, seeking to merit God's favour. The rest the writer to the Hebrews speaks about here is a cessation of all this futile striving.
The rest spoken about here was not an Old Testament Sabbath rest from physical work. It was not the rest the people of God found when they were finally set free from Egypt and entered the Promised Land. The rest spoken of here is a rest from all striving to merit God’s favour by religious efforts and good work. It is the rest that comes when we are finally at peace with God and certain of our relationship with him. It is a rest that comes from the realization that the Lord Jesus has done everything necessary for our peace with God. All we have to do is accept what he has done.
Throughout the Old Testament, God reminded his people that there was a rest promised to his people that they had not yet experienced. That rest could only be found in the Messiah, the Lord Jesus. Christ came to offer what Moses and the law could not offer. He came to offer rest and peace with God the father. The author pleaded with his readers to make every effort to enter that rest with God.
* Can we fall short of the promises of God? Explain.
* Have you personally realized the fullness of blessing of God in your life? Do you believe that there is more God wants to offer?
* Have you experienced rest with God? What is this rest? What change has come about in your life because of this rest?
* Of what use are the promises of God to those who do not have faith? Explain.
* How did the Jews understand rest? What did they miss?
* Thank God for the promises he has given us. Ask him to give you the grace to step out in those promises by faith.
* Ask God to give you more rest in him. Ask him to reveal to you any area that is not surrendered to him.
* Thank the Lord Jesus that he has done all that is necessary for our salvation. Thank him for the assurance you can now have of peace with God.
Read Hebrews 4:12-16
The writer to the Hebrews has been speaking to his readers about entering their rest. Here in this final section of chapter 4, he challenged them to boldly approach the throne of God to enter that rest. He also reminded them of the terrible tragedy of not entering this promised rest.
The section begins with a reminder that the Word of God is living and active. The Scriptures are able to radically change those who read them. They convict of sin and rebellion. They bless those who obey and curse those who reject their truth. People have tried to destroy God’s Word for years but no one has ever been successful. God’s Word is still changing lives around the world. God has chosen to breathe life into the Scriptures. As we seek him in these Scriptures he reveals himself to us. Anyone who is serious about entering the rest the Lord Jesus provides must spend time in this Living Word.
Opening our heart to the Word of God is not always easy. It is sharper than a double edged sword. It penetrates deep down inside us. Notice how the author tells us that the Word reaches into our soul, spirit, joints and marrow. This is to say that the Word of God will penetrate to the very core of our being. It judges our thoughts and the attitudes of our heart (verse 12). You can't hide from this Word. It will reveal sin you never realized existed in you. It will challenge your attitudes and thoughts. It will call you to account for your actions. If you want to enter the rest that Jesus came to give, you will need to face the reality of this penetrating and sharp Word.
It is important that we notice that this Word is a double edged sword. Those who open their hearts to it will soon discover that not only will that Word convict and expose sin but it will also comfort and strengthen those who submit to it. God’s intention through his Word is not only to reveal sin but also to show us how to live in victory over that sin. God’s Word will teach, instruct and empower all who submit to its instruction. If we want to enter our rest we need to open ourselves to the Word of God and let it expose our sin, point us to the solution and train us in righteousness.
There is another truth we need to grasp if we are to enter into rest. We have a great High Priest in the Lord Jesus (verse 14). The Old Testament High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies once a year to make atonement for the sins of the people. Similarly, after his sacrificial death on the cross for our sin, Jesus returned to heaven. By rising from the dead and entering the presence of God, he paid for our sins and secured our salvation. If we want to know the rest that Hebrews speaks of here, we will need to hold firmly to the work of our Great High Priest Jesus.
In Old Testament times, only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies. He alone could make the necessary sacrifice for the sins of the people. In the same way, only Jesus, as our High Priest, is qualified to make the sacrifice necessary for our sin. No one else can make that sacrifice. If you want to have your sins forgiven and enter into the rest promised, you will need to go through him.
As our great High Priest, the Lord Jesus understands exactly what we face on this earth. Jesus understands our need. He faced what we face. Jesus was tempted "in every way." just like us (verse 15). The difference be-tween Jesus and us, however, is that the Lord Jesus resisted those temptations and defeated them. What an encouragement this ought to be to us. Jesus knows how to deal with every temptation. He has proven that he is able to defeat them all. While you may not be able to defeat the temptations you are facing, he can. He is the High Priest who understands. He can break the bondage of sin that keeps us from God. He knows how to deal with any temptation that comes our way. If you want to enter into rest, you will need to turn to the Lord Jesus and trust in his work as High Priest to bring you to God and into perfect rest in his presence.
In light of these facts, we are challenged to approach the throne of God with confidence. Notice that the throne is called a throne of grace. It is a throne of grace because as we approach and kneel before that throne, we find forgiveness and mercy through the work of the Lord Jesus our High Priest. There at that throne we find all the help, healing and comfort we need. There at that throne we find our rest.
In this section the writer to the Hebrews tells us that if we want to find rest, we will have to open our hearts to the Word of God and let it speak, revealing sin and bringing comfort and assurance. We will then have to take the sins that are revealed to us to our Great High Priest Jesus who alone can deal with them. Only through the Lord Jesus as High Priest can our sins be forgiven. In him alone we can find rest for our souls. The writer to the Hebrews challenges his readers to approach the throne of Jesus boldly seeking that rest. Those who do will find mercy, grace and the promised rest. How terrible it would be to reject.
* What does the writer to the Hebrews mean when he tells us that the Word of God is living and active? What impact has the Word had on your life?
* How does the Lord Jesus act as our High Priest?
* How does the High Priesthood of Jesus differ from that of the Old Testament priests?
* Why is the throne of God called a "throne of grace?"
* What role does the Word of God have in enabling us to enter our rest?
* Thank the Lord that he gave us his Word. Thank him for the impact that Word has had on your life. Ask God to help you to accept what he is telling you through his Word.
* Thank the Lord Jesus that he understands our temptations and struggles.
* Praise the Lord that he sits on a throne of grace where those who kneel before him find forgiveness, cleansing and mercy.
Read Hebrews 5:1-10
The High Priest in the Old Testament was selected from among men. He was a man just like those he served. He was appointed for the purpose of representing people before God and to offer up the gifts and sacrifices of God's people.
There is an important point we need to notice here. It was important that the high priest be a man. He was to represent his people before God. If he was to represent men and women before God he needed to identify with them. How can someone properly represent his people if he cannot understand or relate to their needs? This is why it was important that the Lord Jesus become man. He could not represent us if he was not one with us. Jesus took on human form. He laid aside his divine nature in order to face what we face. He perfectly identifies with us and is able to represent us before the Father.
Verse 2 emphasizes this point when it reminds the reader that because the high priest of the Old Testament could identify with our weaknesses, he was able to deal gently with those who were wandering and weak. He could do so because he suffered from the same weakness and temptations. Sometimes the Lord God will allow us to face trials so that we can be better equipped to minister to others who are going through the same thing.
The priests of the Old Testament were themselves sinners. They were not perfect. They had a very important role to play in representing the people before God but they were sinners just like those they served. For this reason, the priests of the Old Testament had to offer sacrifices for their own sins as well as for those of the people they represented (verse 3).
It is amazing to think that the Lord God uses sinners to accomplish his purposes. We all fall short of the standard God has set out in his Word. What a joy it is to know, however, that despite our imperfections, God is still willing to work with us and use us for the sake of his kingdom. We need to demonstrate this same patience with our brothers and sisters in the faith.
The fact that God could use sinners to accomplish his purpose did not mean that anyone could take on the role of high priest. In fact, this was an honour reserved only to those whom God had specifically called. Who among us is qualified to lead God's people into the truth of his ways? I remember a time in my ministry when I prayed: "God, just living for you and dealing with my own sin takes up all my effort, how can I minister to those you have put under my care?" I remember feeling overwhelmed by the awesome task of leading a congregation of people into deeper victory over sin and into a closer walk with God. There is a sense in which we must all feel this weakness. We dare not take this role as "priest" of God's people lightly. None of us are equal to the task.
Even the Lord Jesus did not take the role of High Priest on himself. Even though he was the Son of God he did not take on this role of his own accord (verse 5). In verses 5 and 6, we see that Jesus was called by the Father to be a High Priest. The writer shows this from two Old Testament passages. The first passage is from Psalm 2:7 which says: “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”
It is quite interesting that when the Lord Jesus was baptized by John, a voice from heaven was heard saying: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The Psalmist, looking ahead prophetically, proclaimed that the Messiah or anointed one would come as a son. By taking on human flesh he became the Son of Man, fully able to identify with the needs of the human race. Jesus fulfilled this prophetic word of David and became a Son through his birth as a man. To the writer of the Hebrews this proved that he was the One God had chosen to be our representative.
The second Old Testament passage is from Psalm 110:4 which said: “And he says in another place,” You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”” To under-stand this passage we need to know something about Melchizedek. We read about this priestly king in Genesis 14:18-20. Returning from battle one day, Abraham met him and gave him a tithe of all he had. Melchizedek was the king of Salem (or Jerusalem). This was before the children of Israel even lived in this city. There are several things we need to see about Melchizedek.
First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteous-ness.” He seems to be a symbol of what was to come for the city of Jerusalem. Even before the children of Israel came to live in the city of Jerusalem, there was a king in that city called “king of righteousness.” This was prophetic. The day would come when the Lord Jesus would be the fulfillment of this prophecy. He would come to be the true King of Righteousness.
Second, Melchizedek functioned as a priest of the Most High God in Salem (see Genesis 14:18). As priest, he was not a descendant of Aaron and the priests of Israel. He served in another order-- the order of Melchizedek. It was because Melchizedek was a priest that Abraham offered him a tithe of all he had. What is interesting about Melchizedek is that he represented the Most High God as a different kind of priest. This again was prophetic. The Lord Jesus would become priest not after the order of Aaron according to the Law of Moses but of Melchizedek, who represented priesthood. Jesus would come to set his people free from the law. He would not be a priest like the priests of Moses' day.
The passage quoted in verse 6 tells us that the day would come when another priesthood would be established. This priesthood would not be like the priesthood of Aaron in the Old Testament. Those who served under Aaron's priesthood were sinners who needed to offer sacrifices for their own sin. The priesthood of Melchizedek would be different. Unlike Aaron, this priest would be a "king of righteousness." He would rule as a sinless priest in absolute righteousness. Unlike Aaron, his priesthood would be forever.
Not only was Jesus called to be our High Priest, but he lived a sinless life thus fulfilling his role perfectly. Jesus walked in perfect submission to his Father. He became the perfect sacrifice for our sin on the cross, conquering sin and death (verse 7). This is something that none of the priests of the Old Testament could do.
That victory of Jesus did not come easily. Jesus learned obedience through suffering (verse 8). As a young man he had to grow in his understanding of his heavenly Father. He had to mature in his walk with God and face the temptation we all face. He learned to walk in victory over suffering and trials.
Jesus was called by the Father to be our High Priest but he also demonstrated his worthiness of that position by overcoming the trials and suffering we have to face. He alone was truly qualified to be a High Priest. Unlike the Old Testament priests, he lived a perfect life. His sacrifice was a perfect sacrifice.
As the perfect High Priest, he is able to be the source of salvation for all who will come to him (verse 9). He is a High Priest of a new priestly order (the order of Melchizedek, the king of righteousness apart from the law). There is only one priest in this order. There is only one person who can bear the name “King of Righteousness.” The Lord Jesus, the perfect and sinless High Priest is alone worthy to enter this order as the perfect king of righteousness. As perfect High Priest and King of Righteous-ness, he now represents us before the Father.
* Why was it so important that the High Priest be a human being like us?
* Why did Jesus need to become human? What encouragement do you find in this?
* What do we learn in this passage about how the Lord God can use sinners like us to extend his kingdom?
* What is the Order of Melchizedek? How is it different from the priestly line of Aaron?
* Why did Jesus come as a priest from the Order of Melchizedek and not as an Old Testament Priest from the line of Aaron?
* How is obedience learned? Do we ever stop learning obedience?
* Thank the Lord that he was willing to become human so that he could identify with us and be our perfect High Priest
* Ask the Lord to help you to learn to live in greater obedience.
* Thank the Lord we are now under a new priest-hood apart from the law. Thank him that Jesus, as our new High Priest, is able to bring us into the presence of the Father, forgiven and cleansed of our sin.
Read Hebrews 5:11-14
The writer to the Hebrews has been speaking to his readers about Jesus as High Priest. He told them that Jesus was not a priest like Aaron or the priests of the Old Testament. He belonged to a different order. As priest according to the order of Melchizedek, Jesus took on our flesh and became the sacrifice for our sin in fulfillment of the words of the prophets. He offered a salvation apart from the Law of Moses and its requirements.
These truths would have been very difficult for the Jew to understand. How could God do away with the priesthood of Aaron? How could God have a Son? How could God take on human form? How could God die? How could the death of Jesus bring salvation? How could there possibly be salvation apart from the Law of Moses? The writer to the book of Hebrews seemed to understand just how hard these doctrinal truths were for the Jewish mind. He told them that he had much to tell them about these things but they were slow to learn.
Obviously this "slowness in learning" was not because they were unable to learn. We are told in verse 12 that they should have been able to teach at this point. We can assume from this that the readers were fully capable of understanding these important truths. The problem is more likely that they were clinging to their old ways. From their childhood they had been instructed in the ways of the Law of Moses. It was not easy for them to put aside all they had been brought up to believe.
In verse 12, the author told his readers that they should have been at a point in their walk with God where they were teaching others these important truths about Christ and his priesthood. The problem, however, was that they had not matured in the Lord and their understanding of his work. They were still babies in their understanding of the Lord’s ministry. They still needed to be fed on the milk of the word (verse 12).
Notice how the writer to the Hebrews makes a distinction between elementary truths and teaching about righteous-ness. In verse 13, he compared elementary teachings to a baby still being fed on milk. He told his readers that as babies being fed on spiritual milk, they were not yet acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. The “teaching about righteousness,” like solid food, was for the mature (verse 14).
It is important that we understand what the writer is telling his readers here. These verses follow a discussion about Jesus as High Priest of a new order. They come in the context of the author’s comments about Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin. The writer to the Hebrews has been telling his readers that Jesus was greater than Moses and brought a better way. These are the truths that the Jewish readers of the day were having a hard time understanding.
The Jews had been brought up in a tradition of Law. For them, there could be no salvation apart from the Law of Moses. Righteousness in their minds had to do with how much you obeyed the Law of Moses and followed the traditions passed from their spiritual fathers. The writer to the Hebrews was proposing a new teaching about righteousness. The righteousness he spoke of was a righteousness that came apart from the observation of the Law of Moses. He spoke of a new High Priest who brought a better way than Moses and offered a complete salvation apart from the Law.
More than anything else, the writer to the Hebrews wanted his readers to understand the work of Christ on their behalf. He wanted to show his readers that the Lord Jesus was able to give them a salvation that Moses could not give. His work alone was sufficient for their salvation and right standing with God. Through his work there was forgiveness of sin and rest from their labours under the Law.
We have seen that the mature person is one who under-stands the teaching about righteousness. That is the teaching about the work of Christ for our right standing with the Father and forgiveness of sin. Notice from verse 14, however, that the mature person has also, by constant use of this teaching, trained himself to distinguish good from evil (verse 14).
In the days in which this epistle was written there were many false teachings circulating among believers. There were those who wanted to bring Christians back into the Jewish faith. They believed that all Christians needed to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses if they were to be saved and in a right relationship with God. The mature person was able to discern that this teaching was not in line with the teaching about Christ’s righteousness given to us apart from the Law of Moses.
What was true in terms of this truth is also true in terms of practice. Because he understands the teaching about righteousness through the work of Christ, the mature person places all his confidence and trust in what Christ has done. He does not seek to merit the salvation of the Lord through his good works but depends completely on what the Lord has done on the cross of Calvary.
Notice, however, that the mature person “trains them-selves” to distinguish good from evil. While our righteousness is not based on what we do, those who know the Lord and his righteousness as a gift in their lives, will seek to train themselves to walk in his ways. They do this not to merit his favour (this they already have) but be-cause they delight in him and his purpose. It is the desire of those who have come to Christ to grow in their relationship with him. They want to serve him and be productive members of his body.
Training ourselves in righteousness will not be easy. We have received this gift of righteousness (forgiveness and right standing with God) but it is now our task to live in a manner that is consistent with our new relationship with the Lord. This will mean suffering at times. It will mean denying our sinful fleshly nature. It will mean time spent in the Word of God and prayer. Training implies hard work. It implies obstacles and discipline. What we have received from Christ as a gift now needs to be cared for and nourished. The call of God on our lives as believers is to walk in the righteousness he has given us. We are called to train ourselves and exercise what God has given us.
Just as we exercise physically to keep out bodies in good shape, so we must learn to walk in this new life of righteousness. We must mature and grow in our faith and confidence in what Jesus has done. We must discipline ourselves to walk in obedience and faithfulness. The challenge of the writer to the Hebrews is for us to move beyond our salvation experience to greater maturity in Christ. We are to learn how to eat the solid food of righteous living.
* The readers of the epistle to the Hebrews were slow to learn about the teaching of righteousness. What can keep us from learning what the Spirit of God wants to teach us?
* How much have you grown as a believer? Give some examples of how you have grown over the past year.
* How would you define a mature believer? Is it possible to have the correct doctrine and yet not be mature?
* What is the difference between the milk of the Word and the solid food of righteousness?
* What do we learn about the importance of growing in righteousness? What does growing in righteousness require?
* Ask the Lord to open your heart to learn from him? Ask him to remove any obstacles that might keep you from learning more about him and his purposes for your life.
* Thank the Lord that he is calling us to delight in him and grow in our walk with him.
* Ask the Lord to give you a greater desire to grown in your relationship with him. Ask him to show you what needs to happen for you to be trained in righteousness.
Read Hebrews 6:1-3
In the last chapter, the author of Hebrews spoke about the fact that these Hebrew Christians were still babies in the Lord. They had not matured in their faith and were still on the milk of the Word. They were not yet ready to handle the solid teachings about righteousness.
Here in these first three verses of chapter 6, we get a better grasp of the difference between the milk of the word (elementary teachings) and solid food or the teachings about righteousness (Hebrews 5:12-13).
Notice in verse 1 that the author challenged his readers to leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity. This statement may sound quite strange at first but let's examine it more carefully.
To leave does not mean we forget. A young man or woman may leave their home but the teachings and training they received in that home will not be forgotten. When I finished my training in Seminary, I left the school but the teaching I received would impact me forever. It is important that we keep this principle in mind as we seek to understand what the writer to the Hebrews is telling us. When we are told to leave the elementary teachings about Christ we should not see this to mean that we are to deny or forget these teachings. The idea here is to move on from the foundation this teaching gives to greater maturity.
Imagine for a moment a carpenter decides to build a house. He digs a hole and pours a solid cement foundation and then walks away never to complete the task. Would this not be foolish? Why would he pour a solid foundation and never build on that foundation? The foundation is only the beginning. The teaching we have received about Christ is foundational. We must never forget those teachings. It is on this solid truth of Christ, who he is and what he has done that we must build our lives. We must not stop there, however. We must move on from that foundation to maturity. You can have all kinds of knowledge about the Lord Jesus and not be mature. You can know the Bible inside out and still not be mature. Maturity is not primarily about how much knowledge we have. Knowledge is the foundation on which we build and is very important but it does not guarantee maturity.
What is this elementary teaching of which the author speaks? The author seems to be speaking here about the various foundational doctrines of the church. We are given some examples in verse 1.
The writer to the Hebrews includes in these elementary teachings, instructions about Christ. In other words, who the Lord Jesus Christ is and what he came to do. This is a vital doctrine but it is only the foundation. We need to build on this foundation of truth and go on to maturity. You can know who Jesus is and what he has done and not be mature. There are many Christians who know all the right things about the Lord Jesus who are still immature in their faith.
Verse 1 also speaks of laying again the “foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death.” The doctrine of repentance is again a very vital doctrine. We were all on a path that led to death. Our sin was separating us from a holy God. Only by repenting of our sin and trusting the work of the Lord Jesus could we know forgiveness and become a child of God. There is no salvation apart from this repentance. Again this is a foundational teaching of the church but it is an elementary teaching. You can repent of your sins and still be a baby in your faith.
Another elementary teaching in verse 1 is the teaching about faith in God. This is connected to repentance. When we repent we need to turn away from our sin and turn to God by faith. We cannot see him with our eyes but we must believe. Sometimes all we have is his Word. We must believe him and trust what he is saying. For this we need faith. As important as this teaching about faith in God is, again it is a foundational teaching. Having faith in God for salvation is only the beginning. We must build on that foundation of faith if we are to be mature.
Another elementary teaching in verse 2 is the teaching about baptism. Baptism is a command of the Lord Jesus. He calls us to demonstrate our faith by means of baptism. We know, however, that a person can be baptized and still not be a mature believer. Baptism is not an end in itself. Again this instruction about baptism is foundational but we must build on this foundation if we are to become all that God intends us to become.
Laying on of hands is another elementary teaching mentioned in verse 2. What is meant here by the laying on of hands? To understand this we need to look at 1 Timothy 4:14: Here Paul told Timothy:
Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
In Scripture, the laying on of hands was often accompanied by various manifestations of the Spirit. Sometimes spiritual gifts were given or affirmed as the elders laid hands on the believer. Sometimes people were healed of their physical ailments through the laying on of hands. When we speak about the laying on of hands we speak of empowerment or enabling. Again it is important that we understand our need of spiritual empowering for ministry. We dare not attempt to minister in our own strength. God is calling us to minister in the power of his Holy Spirit. We need to understand, however, that we can have all the spiritual gifts we could ever need and still not be fully mature in Christ. Even gifted men and women of God fall into temptation and sin. They are being used of God in powerful ways but they have not reached a level of maturity where they can live in victory over their sin. Gifts and empowerment are vital in ministry. We must never assume, however, that because God has gifted or empowered us in a specific area that we could never fall. We must not confuse power with maturity. This teaching about the laying on of hands and empowerment by the Holy Spirit is only the beginning. It, too, falls under the category of elementary teachings. We must build on this teaching as a foundation.
The next elementary teaching on the list is the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. It is very important that we understand that the day is coming when the Lord Jesus will return. He will raise the dead and call them to give an account of their actions. Those who trust in the Lord Jesus will be saved and live eternally with him. Those who have rejected him will be separated from him forever. The reality of this truth ought to guide us in our walk with God. We need to live every day realizing that the Lord is coming to judge. There will be a resurrection from the dead and an accounting. This truth is vital if we are to move on to maturity in our service of God.
It is important that we understand what the writer to the Hebrews is telling us. How often has the church of our day emphasized doctrine as the most essential part of our spiritual walk? We select our pastors based on their doctrinal statements. We want to know what people believe and judge them accordingly. What we believe is very important, but it does not guarantee maturity.
The author is by no means diminishing the importance of a solid doctrinal foundation. If you want to read you first need to learn the alphabet? A house must be built on a firm foundation. Having the right doctrine is very important. You can't build on a shaky foundation. Knowing the truth is crucial if we are to move on to maturity. Knowing the truth, however, is not equal to maturity. I have met men and women who have put me to shame with regards to their maturity in Christ. These individuals did not have the training I had. They did not have as solid a doctrinal foundation but they surpassed me in their relationship with God and their experience of him.
As I have already said, if you want to learn to read you need to begin by learning the alphabet. As you read this book you are no longer thinking about the alphabet. It has become so much part of you that you don’t have to dwell on your ABC’s any more. Those of us who have learned to drive a car will recall the first few months of learning. It seemed like there were so many things to think about. We needed to know how much pressure to apply on the accelerator, how much to turn the steering wheel and when to shift gears. In time, however, all this became so natural to us that we no longer had to even think about it. We left thinking about all details of driving and went on to drive. This is what the writer to the Hebrews is telling his readers here. They were to leave the elementary teaching like a reader leaves his ABC’s. These teachings were to be so natural to them that they did not have to focus on them anymore. They had become part of their every decision and thought. They were as natural to them as breathing.
God is looking for a people who have a solid foundation of truth. He is looking for a people who will then build on that foundation. Now that you know the truth God expects you to do something about it. He is not looking for people with good doctrine alone. He is looking for a people who can build on that doctrine. When we focus on the elementary teachings alone we miss God’s purpose. God gives us the truth not so that we can place it on a pedestal and worship it, but so that we can use it as a foundation stone to maturity in our relationship and service for him. This, says the writer to the Hebrews, “God permitting, we will do” (see verse 3).
* How important is a good foundation?
* Does having a good foundation of truth mean that we are mature? How easy is it to fall into the trap of believing that knowing doctrine equals maturity?
* What has been the focus of your spiritual walk? Have you been stuck on the foundation or have you been building on that foundation? Give some examples of how you have grown recently.
* Ask the Lord to help you to build on the foundation of truth he has set out in his Word.
* Ask the Lord to show you what your priorities ought to be in light of what you have learned here in this section of Hebrews.
* Ask the Lord to reveal any area in your life he wants to mature. Open your heart to him and ask him to bring you to that place of maturity in this area of your life.
Read Hebrews 6:4-8
This passage has been the source of much debate over the years. Bible scholars differ in the interpretation of these important verses. The writer to the Hebrews tells his readers here that there were individuals who had fallen away and could never be brought back to repentance. I personally believe that these verses apply to those who have great knowledge and experience of Christian doctrine and practice but have never truly come to true faith in Christ. Our churches are filled with such people. To all outward appearance they look the same as the true believer but their heart has never been transformed. Notice what the writer to the Hebrews tells us about these individuals.
They Have Once Been Enlightened
We see from verse 4 that these individuals had at one time been enlightened. To be enlightened is not the same as being saved or reborn. To be enlightened is to be brought to a place of understanding. These individuals have heard the truth of the gospel and come to under-stand it. They may even be able share the message of salvation with others but they themselves have never experienced its power to forgive and give new life.
Tasted the Heavenly Gift
The second thing we discover about these individuals is that they have tasted the heavenly gift. Notice that these individuals have merely tasted this heavenly gift. The word used in the Greek means to try, or to make trial experience of something. Having been enlightened, these individuals decided to give what Jesus said a try. Maybe for a time they experience the presence of the Lord, his peace or his joy. Some may even see a change in their lives. Like the seeds in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, however, they did not persevere when trials and opposition came their way. These individuals have been given certain experiences with the Lord. The Lord has touched them in specific ways. God may give the unbeliever a peace or joy in his heart. He may bring emotional or physical healing to those who are not his children. He may speak to them in a dream or a vision. He may even use and equip them to accomplish a specific purpose for his kingdom. Many who have been touched by God in special ways have never truly become his children. These individuals are curious tasters only, who delight in the benefits of religion but who have never given themselves completely to the Lord Jesus or experienced the new birth.
Shared in the Holy Spirit
Notice also that these individuals have shared in the Holy Spirit. We need to understand that the Lord is not limited to using only those who belong to him. God used Pharaoh in the Old Testament to demonstrate his power to the people of Israel. He used a big fish to save Jonah. It is quite possible to be used of God and still perish in your sin. We see here that these individuals shared in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. They may have been used by the Holy Spirit to accomplish something for the sake of the kingdom. In Samuel 19, we read how Saul and his soldiers were engaged in an evil plot to kill David, the anointed of the Lord. When Saul’s men arrived in the town where David was staying, the Spirit of God overpowered them and they began to prophesy (1 Samuel 19:20). Here was a group of men intent on evil who experienced the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Jesus healed many people by the power of the Holy Spirit when he was on this earth. Many who were touched by the Holy Spirit in this way, however, never turned their lives and hearts over to him. They walked away after receiving the blessing. It is quite possible to share an experience of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives and still not truly belong to the Lord Jesus. The history of the Old Testament shows powerfully how God moved by his Spirit in the lives of the people of Israel, but they still rejected him.
Tasted the Goodness of the Word and the Powers of the Coming Age
The individuals that the writer to the Hebrews speaks about here have also tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the kingdom of God. They may have appreciated the teaching of the Word of God and taken great delight in it. Beyond this, however, they may also have tasted the powers of the coming age. They have seen the power of God over the enemy. They have seen that this truth can really set people free from the grip of sin and evil. They see clear demonstrations of the power of the kingdom of God over evil. Maybe even for a time they themselves were changed by the power of that Word. Despite this, they turn their back on what they have seen and heard.
We have the distinct impression that the action of these individuals is very deliberate. In other words, they under-stand what they are doing when they turn their back on the Lord and his offer of salvation. They hear the gospel and understand it in their minds but they reject its call. They have seen evidence of the power of the gospel in the lives of those around them and even tasted samples of it in their own lives but again they resist it. These individuals have had every opportunity to accept and understand the gospel but they have walked away from it.
Because they have resisted the Lord and all his call to repentance they have given up every hope of being restored to a right relationship with him. The writer to the Hebrews says these individuals have fallen away. The word used has the meaning of deviating or turning aside. In other words, despite all their knowledge and experiences with the Lord they have made a choice to turn aside from it all and go their own way.
Notice in verse 6 that these individuals have crucified the Son of God again and subjected him to public disgrace. When the Lord Jesus came to this earth, he was rejected by the men and women he came to save. They turned their back on him. Some of those who rejected him had been healed by the Lord. Others were powerfully touched by his teaching and knew that he spoke with the authority of God. Despite what they knew of him, they chose to crucify him on the cross. They lifted him up on that cross for all to see. Jesus was publicly humiliated. This is what these individuals are doing by rejecting the Lord and his offer of salvation. They are like those who experienced his work in their lives and cried out for his crucifixion.
There is a difference between not accepting the Lord out of ignorance and deliberately refusing his offer despite our knowledge and experience of him. The apostle Paul did much damage to the church before he came to know the Lord Jesus but he was forgiven because he acted in ignorance and unbelief. We read in 1 Timothy 1:13:
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.
This is not the case with the people we meet in this passage. These individuals have come to understand the truth. Some have even had exciting experiences with the Word of God and with the Spirit. These individuals are without excuse. They are not acting in ignorance and unbelief; they are acting out of open rebellion. They know the truth but walk away from it.
All of us have fallen into sin and wandered from the path. Peter, knowing who Jesus was, denied him three times. He was still forgiven. How many times have we known something to be wrong and still have fallen into that sin? The Lord Jesus is quite willing to forgive all who will come to him. Peter realized very quickly what he had done and wept over his sin. The Lord would forgive him. The writer to the Hebrews is not speaking here about those who fall into sin out of weakness.
To give us a better understanding of what he is saying, the writer reminded his readers that there are two types of land. There is a land that will drink up the water and produce good crops. There is also a land that will only produce thorns and thistles. This second type of land is useless. It is in danger of being cursed and burned. The rain falls on both types of land but one produces good crops and the other bad. One piece of land will be farmed and blessed of God while the other will be burned.
The true believer is like that land that produces good crops. The work of God’s Spirit in them produces fruit for the good of his kingdom. The unbeliever, however, resists this work of God and produces only weeds and thorns, of no use to God or his kingdom. The evidence of true faith is seen in the fruit. There are many who experience God but whose fruit demonstrates that they have never come to faith in him.
* Have you ever met an unbeliever who is able to explain the message of the gospel but had never experienced the power of that message in their lives? What is the difference between understanding and accepting?
* What is the difference between "tasting" and experiencing in full?
* Can the Lord use an unbeliever to accomplish his purposes? Explain.
* Can the Lord give the unbeliever victory over their sins? Does this mean that they are a child of God?
* What is the difference between falling into sin and the sin rejecting God?
* What is the role of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives? Why is it important that we surrender to him and his work?
* What evidence does this chapter give us of true faith?
* Thank the Lord for softening your heart to the message of the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to give you the assurance of your salvation. Ask him to show you that you are not like the people he speaks of here who know the truth but are not his children.
* Do you have a friend or loved one who knows the truth but is turning their backs on it? Take a moment to pray that the Lord would break through to them before it is too late.
Read Hebrews 6:9-20
In the last meditation, we examined what the writer to the Hebrews had to say about those who have had an experience of God but have turned from him and are lost forever. It would be very easy for us to wonder if we are among those who could fall into this category. Can we be sure that our faith is real and that we are not like the person spoken of in the beginning of Hebrews 6? The writer to the Hebrews reassures his reader that they had great hope in Christ.
In verse 9, the writer told his readers that he was confident that they were not like the people described in the preceding verses. He was confident of better things for them. He was fully confident that the individuals he was writing to were true believers who would receive the full blessings of their salvation. In saying this he shows us that we can indeed be sure of our salvation.
He went on in verse 10 to remind his readers of the justice of God. God would be just and fair to them. He had seen their work and the love they had in their hearts for him. Notice that their love for God was demonstrated in how they helped and cared for his people. We should understand that it was not because of these works that these people would be saved. These works were, how-ever, the result and evidence of a true salvation they had already experienced. God saw their loving efforts for his kingdom and would reward them. The evidence of their salvation was in their service and love for the Lord.
Having assured them of his confidence in their salvation, the writer to the Hebrews challenged his readers to continue to show diligence in their service for the Lord in order to make their hope secure. He makes a connection between lifestyle and hope in Christ. Again, we need to be careful that we do not come to believe that we are saved by our good works. While we are not saved by our good works, our works can be an indication of a relationship with God. In other words, if I belong to the Lord Jesus my life will change. I will no longer be the person I used to be. When I see the evidence of a servant heart, I can have a deeper assurance of my relationship with him. The change in our lives and the desire in our hearts to serve and honour the Lord can be a powerful indication of the reality of our salvation. Imagine that when you examine your life you see no desire to serve and honour the Lord. What assurance could you have that the salvation you professed was real?
There is another evidence of true salvation in verse 11. The author encouraged his readers to persevere in their service and love for the saints. “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end,” he told them. We have seen in verses 4-8 that there are those who walk with the Lord for a time and fall away. Like a seed planted among thorns, these individuals quickly fade away and produce no lasting fruit. Those who belong to the Lord, however, will persevere to the end. They may slip and fall on the way but they will get up again and keep going. It is not just our works of service that demonstrate our relationship with God but also our perseverance in those works to the end. The reader is challenged, in verse 12, not to become lazy in his walk with God but to imitate those who inherit the promises of God by faith. True faith will be demonstrated by perseverance and faithful service to the end.
Beyond these internal evidences to the reality of our salvation, there is an even more powerful guarantee. The writer to the Hebrews points us to God and his promise as our most certain hope of salvation. To illustrate his point the writer to the Hebrews brings his reader back to the Old Testament. He reminds them of the promise of God to Abraham to make him a great nation. When God swore an oath to Abraham, he swore this oath by himself because there was no one greater. He promised that he would bless him and give him many descendants (see verse 14). This did not happen immediately. Abraham had his doubts (Genesis 17:17). Sarah, his wife, laughed at the promise (Genesis 18:12). She even gave Abraham her servant Hagar in the hope that the promise could be fulfilled through her (Genesis 16:2). God had his own plan. God was faithful to that promise and gave Sarah the son he promised. Abraham had to be patient, however, and wait for the timing of the Lord (verse 15). He was an old man when that promise was fulfilled but God was true to his word.
The writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers that when God swore his oath to Abraham he swore by himself. By making this oath in his name God put an end to all doubt about its fulfillment (verse 16). God could not break his word. Humanly, Abraham and Sarah could not understand how God would accomplish that promise. Only by faith in God and patient waiting on him would they see its fulfillment. Through his promise to Abraham God wanted to show the whole world who he was. By swearing by himself, God was putting his reputation at stake before the whole world (verse 17).
The writer to the Hebrews tells us in verse 18 that God gives us two unchangeable things to encourage and assure us of our hope in him. The context would indicate that these two “unchangeable things’ are his nature and his word. God swore to Abraham that he would be faithful to his promise to give him a son. Abraham believed God because he knew who God was, that he could not lie and that nothing could ever keep him from fulfilling his promise. We have his character and his word as two solid evidences that he will be faithful to what he promises.
The writer to the Hebrews compares our hope to an anchor for the soul (verse 19). When a ship is firmly anchored, it cannot be moved. Though the tides and the storm rage around it, the ship will remain in place. This is what we have in the Lord Jesus. We have a hope that is secure and firm. Notice in verse 19 that this hope enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. This is a reference to the temple. The Holy of Holies was the place behind the curtain where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. The presence of the Lord was there over the Ark of the Covenant. When the writer to the Hebrews told his readers that their anchor of hope entered the inner sanctuary, he was telling them that it was anchored in God himself. There could be no greater assurance. The anchor cannot let go because it is held in place by God.
The author to the Hebrews gave hope to those who were worried that they might be among those who fall away. He told them that he had seen evidence in them of a true salvation. Their change of heart and desire to persevere in faithful service was an indication that they belonged to the Lord. More importantly, however, their faith was anchored solidly in the promise of God never to let them go. There could be no more firm and secure place to anchor their hope.
* How can we know that the salvation we profess is real? What evidence is there of the salvation you profess?
* What is the difference between working to merit our salvation and working as a result of our salvation?
* What role do faith and perseverance play in our walk with God?
* Where is our hope anchored? What confidence does this bring us?
* Thank the Lord for the assurance that you belong to him.
* Thank the Lord for the assurance you have in his character and word. Thank him that nothing can shake his promise.
* Take a moment to praise the Lord for the way he has anchored you in him so that nothing can take you from him.
* Ask the Lord to give you greater faith and patience as you face the obstacles on your path.
Read Hebrews 7:1-28
Earlier in the book of Hebrews we saw that the Lord Jesus was a priest of the order of Melchizedek. We met Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20. Melchizedek met Abraham and blessed him when he was returning from battle. Abraham gave him a tithe from the plunder of his battle. He was described in verse 1 as the king of Salem and a priest of the Most High God. Let’s take a moment to consider this man Melchizedek.
Melchizedek was king of Salem. Salem is the city of Jerusalem. At this time Jerusalem did not belong to the Jews. The land, however, was being prepared for the people of God. Even before the Jews took over the city, God had a king there whose name was Melchizedek, king of righteousness. He acted as a priest and king in the city of Salem.
Melchizedek was also priest of the Most High God. While he does not appear to be an Israelite, he does seem to know, honour and serve the Most High God of Israel. His priesthood, however, was not according to the priesthood of Levi as described in the law of the Old Testament. We will return to this later.
Notice in verse 2 that the word Salem means "peace." Melchizedek is described, therefore, as the king of peace.
In verse 3, we are told that Melchizedek was without father and mother. This needs some explanation. When Melchizedek is mentioned in the book of Genesis it is without reference to his parents. This is unique in the sense that most people were identified with their parents. We should not assume here that Melchizedek had no parents. They are not mentioned, however, for prophetic reasons.
Melchizedek was a prophetic symbol of the Lord Jesus who was to come. His life was prophetic. His name spoke of a “King of Righteousness” who would come to the city of Jerusalem. He is described as the king of peace and the priest of the Most High God. He was both a king and a priest. Jesus also was a priest and a king. He came as priest to bring us to God. He came as king to set up a spiritual kingdom. Just as Melchizedek’s parents are not mentioned in the Scriptures, so Jesus existed in eternity past without parents. The writer to the Hebrews compared the Lord Jesus to Melchizedek of the Old Testament. He sees Melchizedek as a prophetic symbol of the Lord Jesus and his earthly life and ministry.
When Abraham met Melchizedek in the book of Genesis, he gave him a tithe from all the plunder he had taken in battle (verse 4). Abraham action was prophetic. It was the priests in the Old Testament who collected the tithe from the people. By giving a tithe to Melchizedek, Abraham is recognizing him as priest. What is significant is that Melchizedek did not trace his ancestry to Levi. The Levites were the only ones permitted to exercise the role of priest in the Old Testament, however, Abraham treated Melchizedek as a priest even though he was not from the tribe of Levi.
There is another detail we need to mention in verse 6. Remember that in the Jewish mind, Abraham was very important. He was the father of their faith and literally the father of the nation. Notice in verse 6, however, that Melchizedek blessed Abraham. How could Melchizedek bless a great man like Abraham? The writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers in verse 7 that in the Old Testament the greater person always blessed the lesser. A father would bless his children. The priest would bless the people. What the author of the book of Hebrews is telling us is that Melchizedek represented someone who was greater than Abraham. He had the authority to bless Abraham, the father of the nation. Again we see this as a picture of the Lord Jesus who was to come. It is interesting to note that in John 8:53, Jesus was asked this very question.
Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?
Here the writer to the Hebrews answers the question very definitely. Jesus, whom Melchizedek represented and symbolized, was indeed greater than Abraham.
The author goes on in verse 8 to compare the Old Testament priesthood of Levi to the priesthood of Melchizedek. In the case of the priesthood of Levi, the tithe was collected by sinful men whose life is short and who must all face death. In the case of Jesus, however, who is priest after the order of Melchizedek, he would live forever. He has no end. He is an eternal priest whose ministry will never end. He has conquered death by his work on the cross.
Notice that when Abraham met Melchizedek, Levi had not yet been born (verse 10). The priesthood of Melchizedek is older than the priesthood of Levi. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews told his readers that it could be said that Levi, who was still in the body of his ancestor, paid a tithe to Melchizedek through Abraham. The one who was to collect the tithe actually offered a tithe to Melchizedek. The writer seems to be inferring that this implied that Melchizedek and the order he represented was greater than Levi and his priestly descendants. Jesus and his ministry as the priest after the order of Melchizedek were indeed greater than the Levitical priesthood.
If the priesthood of Levi could bring perfection then there would not have been any need of another priesthood (verse 11). The Old Testament priesthood, however, was powerless to bring people the forgiveness and salvation they so desperately needed. The priesthood of Levi could not enable its followers to reach the standard God required. The clear teaching of the Old Testament is that the soul that sinned would die (see Ezekiel 18:20). The priesthood of Levi could calm the wrath of God for a time but it could not change the sinful heart of man. Through-out the entire period of the Old Testament sin continued. Repeatedly, God's people fell short of his standard. How many bulls, goats, sheep, and birds were offered as sacrifices in the Old Testament? Did those sacrifices change the heart of the ones who offered them? Did these sacrifices and laws rid the world of sin? Anyone who reads the Old Testament can see that despite the priesthood of Levi, nothing really changed in the hearts of men and women. Sin still separated them from God. The world needed a new priest who could bring them peace with God and the forgiveness of sin.
There would be no value in changing priests and keeping the old system of rules and regulations. With the change of priesthood came also a change of law. Under the priesthood of Melchizedek there is a new way of living. Those who are under the priesthood of Melchizedek, the King of Righteousness are no longer under the priesthood of Levi and all its regulations. The Lord Jesus did not come from the tribe of Levi. Under the law of the Old Testament he had no right to be a Levitical priest (see verses 13, 14). This was not his intention. Jesus comes to offer a new way.
This has a radical application to those of us who now live under the priesthood of the Lord Jesus. You can't remain under the priesthood of Levi and the priesthood of the Lord Jesus at the same time. Those who place them-selves under the priesthood of the Lord Jesus must cut themselves off from the old way of the law. That law will never save you. Hundreds of years of Old Testament history have proven that the law could not bring a person into a right relationship with God. Only the perfect sacrifice of the Lord Jesus alone could accomplish that.
Notice in verse 16 the difference between the priesthood of Levi and the priesthood of Melchizedek. The priests of the Old Testament were chosen on the basis of ancestry. In other words, they needed to be born in a certain family. The priesthood of Christ, on the other hand is not based on ancestry but on the power of an indestructible life (verse 16). The Lord Jesus proved this by his resurrection from the dead. He took our sins on himself, died on our behalf and rose victorious over both death and sin. His priesthood is not based on family lines but in the power he demonstrated over sin and death.
Again we see that the Law of the Old Testament, though perfect in itself was useless to change the heart of man (verse 18). It was never intended to solve the problems of man. It was intended to show us our need of a Saviour. In the Lord Jesus, we have a better hope (verse 17). Because of the hope he offers, we can now draw near to God (verse 19). This is something that the Law of Moses could never do. To draw near to God in the period of the Old Testament was certain death. Now through the priesthood of Jesus, we can approach boldly because he has taken care of our sin.
There is another difference between the priesthood of Levi and the priesthood of Melchizedek. In verse 20, we read that the Lord Jesus, as priest after the order of Melchizedek, became priest on the basis of an oath. This was not the case with the priests of Levi. It was the Lord God himself who swore an oath concerning the priest-hood of Melchizedek. In verse 21 we read: "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: 'You are a priest forever." This is a quote from Psalm 110:4:
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
Notice particularly in the passage quoted here from the book of Psalms, that the Psalmist mentions the order of Melchizedek. What we need to see is that even in the Old Testament the Lord God promised by oath that he would establish a new priesthood that would last forever.
Because the priesthood of Melchizedek was an eternal priesthood, it is able to give us a better hope. The Levitical priesthood was only temporary. The priesthood of Jesus is forever. He will reign and serve as priest for us throughout all eternity. Levi and his descendants died and were buried like every other priest after him. Jesus alone is eternal. He will always be there for us. He has conquered sin and death. In him, we have a powerful hope. Death prevented the priests of Levi from continuing their service (verse 23). The priesthood of Jesus, however is permanent (verse 24). He will always bridge the gap between us and God.
The Lord Jesus, as a priest of Melchizedek, is fully able to save and meet every need we have. He can do this because, unlike the priest of the Old Testament, he is absolutely holy, pure and set apart from sinners. The priests of the Old Testament were sinners who could not even rescue themselves from sin. Jesus had complete victory over sin. Though he was tempted like we are; he did not sin. He defeated sin and the power of sin.
Notice in verse 27 that the priests of the Old Testament had to continue making sacrifices, not only for them-selves but for the people. The Lord Jesus, however, made one sacrifice for sin. That one sacrifice did more than all the sacrifices of the Old Testament combined. It completely satisfied the just demands of a holy God. Notice that the Lord Jesus made a sacrifice for sins once for all. In the Old Testament, a sacrifice needed to be made for each person who sinned every time they sinned. The Lord Jesus died once. That one sacrifice covered every offense that was ever committed in the past present and future. It covered not just one person but everyone who will come to him. What a powerful sacrifice this was. It defeated sin and evil. It brought absolute forgiveness. In the eyes of the Father, everything was covered in that one sacrifice of his Son on the cross. We dare not insult this sacrifice by thinking that we can add anything to it. All that is required now is to rely fully on this one sacrifice made for all sin and all who will come to receive it. It is sufficient in the eyes of the Father.
We who have come to the Lord Jesus now serve under a new priestly order. We are no longer under the old priesthood and its ways. Christ has set us free. Now we must set our eyes and hope on him alone.
* How is Melchizedek a symbol of the Lord Jesus?
* In what way is Melchizedek greater than Abraham?
* How is the priesthood of Melchizedek greater than the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament?
* Why did God set up the Levitical priesthood if it could not provide for our salvation?
* What do we learn in this passage about the power of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus?
* Thank the Lord that he provided a perfect salvation. Thank him that nothing more can be added.
* Thank him that he set us free from a system that could not save us.
* Do you know someone who is still trying to merit their salvation by a good life? Ask the Lord to show them that futility of this way. Ask the Lord to reveal his way to them.
Read Hebrews 8:1-13
The writer to the Hebrews has been speaking to his readers about the priesthood of Melchizedek. He reminded them in the last chapter that this priesthood replaced the Levitical priesthood. He also told them in Hebrews 7:12 that with this new priesthood came a change of the law: “For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.”
This meant that they were no longer under the law of the Levitical priesthood. The Law of Moses was not intended to last forever. It was meant to point God's people to the Lord Jesus and the new priesthood he would bring.
We discover in chapter 8 that this new priesthood is quite different from the priesthood of Levi and his descendants. In verse 1, the writer reminded his readers that Jesus, our great high priest, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. The right hand was a place of honour. To sit at the right hand of God in heaven was the highest honour anyone could have. The Lord Jesus alone is able to take this place. He alone is worthy. No priest in the Old Testament could take this place of honour. The qualifications of Jesus to be our high priest are far superior to the priests of the Old Testament.
There is another difference between the ministries of the Lord Jesus our Great High Priest and the Levitical priesthood. The high priests of Israel served in a tabernacle made with human hands. The Lord Jesus, on the other hand, served in a tabernacle that was set up by God, not people. The tabernacle in which he serves is a heavenly one. This may refer to his presence now at the right hand of the father in heaven from where he serves as our high priest and intercessor. Beyond this however, we understand from 1 Corinthians 6:19 that our bodies are now the temples of God:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.”
Now the Lord Jesus lives and ministers in human hearts as priest and king.
We are the temples of the living God. It is in us that the work of the Lord Jesus is taking place. In Old Testament times, the presence of God dwelt in the Holy of Holies of the temple. Today, that same presence lives in the heart of everyone who accepts the forgiveness offered them by Christ.
The priests of the Old Testament were appointed by God to offer sacrifices on earth. Jesus serves in heaven. Jesus did not come to take over the role of the Levites (verse 4). These priests were appointed by God for a special purpose. Their ministry was a “copy and shadow” of what was in heaven. Their role looked forward in faith to an even greater role that would be played by the Lord Jesus, who would become our great High Priest. The earthly temple in which the Levitical priests served symbolically looked forward to an even greater temple in heaven in which Christ would serve.
According to the writer to the Hebrews, it was for this reason that Moses warned those who built the earthly tabernacle to follow every detail of the pattern God had set out for its construction (verse 5). Each object in the earthly tabernacle represented something of the ministry of the Lord Jesus for his people in heaven. The earthly tabernacle in which the priests of Levi served was a prophetic reminder of better things to come (verse 6).
Not only was Christ’s ministry superior but he also is mediator of a superior covenant (verse 6). This new covenant was founded on better promises than the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was a symbol of what God wanted to do for his people on a larger scale. God promised his people a physical land under the Old Covenant. In the New Covenant he promised a place in his heavenly kingdom. In the Old Covenant, he promised peace and security from enemies on all sides. In the new covenant, he promises peace with God and victory over sin and the devil. The promises of this new covenant are wonderful promises. In this New Covenant, we are promised salvation, forgiveness and victory not just for now but forever.
The Old Testament prophets looked forward to the day when the Lord God would make a new covenant with his people. The Old Covenant that God had made with his people did not accomplish their salvation. It could not change the hearts of God's people. Despite all the blood that was shed, God's people remained the same. The Old Covenant with all its laws and regulations accomplished everything that God wanted it to accomplish, but it was never intended to bring salvation. God knew beforehand that this covenant would not change men and women. It was for this reason that he gave it. He wanted to show us that human effort was not enough. He wanted to show us that we could never measure up to the standard that he had for us. He used the Law and the Old Covenant to show us our need. Again, it all pointed to the Lord Jesus and the new covenant he would make with us.
Probably one of the greatest descriptions in the Old Testament of this new covenant that God was going to make with his people can be found in the prophecy of Jeremiah, quoted in this passage (see Jeremiah 31:31-34). Let’s take a moment to hear what Jeremiah says about this new covenant and how it compares with the covenant that God made with his people in the days of Abraham.
In verse 8, the writer to the Hebrews, quoting Jeremiah, made it quite clear that it was the purpose of the Lord to make a new covenant from the very beginning. The new covenant was not a second thought on the part of God. Even before the Lord Jesus came to this earth, it was the intent of the Father to make a new and perfect covenant with his people. The old covenant made with his people in the Old Testament was preparation for this new covenant made through his Son. The new covenant would not be like the covenant God made with Israel in the desert (verse 9). This new covenant was different in several ways. In verse 10, the writer told his readers first that under this new covenant God would put his laws in the minds of his people and write them on their hearts. God’s people would know this law not only because they read it but also because they were being moved from within to listen and obey it. The Lord would put his Holy Spirit in the hearts of his people. The indwelling Holy Spirit would teach them and move them to follow the ways of the Father. The Holy Spirit would change their character and attitudes. He would put in their hearts a new desire for the things of God. He would show his people what God required and enable them to do what God asked. Under this new covenant, the presence of God would come to dwell in the lives of his people.
We also read in verse 11 that all those who were under this new covenant would know the Lord. Only those in whom the Spirit of God dwelt would come under this covenant. This was quite different from the covenant of the Old Testament. Those who were under this old covenant were born into the nation of Israel. It was to the descendants of Abraham that this covenant was made. As we examine these descendants of Abraham, we discover that not all truly loved and served the Lord. Some openly rebelled against him. Many would perish in their sin. This is not the case with the new covenant. All who were part of this new covenant would know the Lord from the least to the greatest. From the youngest to the oldest or from the poorest to the most influential, they would all have one thing in common. All would know and love the Lord.
Verse 12 tells us that those who belong to this new covenant have been forgiven of their sins. The Lord God no longer remembers those sins. There is only one way that sins can be forgiven. The Lord Jesus alone is able to forgive our sins. He took our place on the cross. He paid the penalty. All who come to him and accept his work on their behalf are forgiven and brought under a new covenantal relationship with God. Under this new covenant there is complete forgiveness. This was not true of those who belonged to the old covenant. They were constantly being reminded of their sin. Every sacrifice brought this back to them. Blood was constantly being shed. Under the new covenant, there is no more need of blood. The blood of Christ spilled at Calvary is sufficient for all time.
In conclusion, the writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers that in calling this covenant a new covenant, they were saying that the old covenant was old and dead. If you seek to serve under the way of the old covenant you have missed what the Lord Jesus came to do. He has come to set us free from a law that could never save. He came so that by means of his work we can experience absolute and total forgiveness apart from the law. The new covenant Jesus mediates is vastly superior to the covenant of the Old Testament. Under this new covenant, there is complete forgiveness. The Lord Jesus wants to make this covenant agreement with all who will come to him. He will give you his Holy Spirit to seal this agreement. The Holy Spirit will write God's word on our heart and equip you to obey. He will draw you into an intimate and personal relationship with God. All your sins will be covered; never again to be held against you. This is an offer we cannot refuse. This is what the prophets of the Old Testament longed to see in their day.
The covenant of the Old Testament is dead. It has accomplished its purpose. Its goal was to point us to Jesus. The priests, the tabernacle and the rules and regulations all looked forward in time to the work and character of a perfect High Priest. Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the Old Testament covenant and offers us a superior covenant apart from the law.
* Consider marriage as a covenant between two people. How is the covenant God makes with his people similar to a marriage covenant?
* What was the purpose of the old covenant with its laws and regulations?
* How do the priests, tabernacle and laws of the old covenant show us prophetically what Jesus would accomplish in his ministry on earth?
* What does Jeremiah teach us about the new covenant? How is it different from the Old Testament covenant?
* How does a person enter this new covenantal relationship with the Lord Jesus?
* What are the promises of God to those who enter into this relationship with him?
* Thank the Lord for the incredible promises he offers to all who will enter this new covenantal relationship with him.
* Thank the Lord that he desires to enter into a covenantal relationship with you today?
* Open your heart to the Lord Jesus today. If you have never entered into this relationship with him, ask him to forgive your sin and accept you as his child.
* Thank the Lord that his has given us his Holy Spirit to live in us enabling us to live in this new relationship with him.
Read Hebrews 9:1-12
This tabernacle of the Old Testament was built according to the specifications of the Lord in his Word. There could be no deviation from this plan. In the Holy Place of the tabernacle, God required that the priest place a lamp stand, and a table on which the consecrated bread was to be kept (verse 2). The Lord Jesus was the light of the world (John 8:12) and the bread of life (John 6:35). The lamp stand and the bread represent the work of the Lord Jesus.
Behind the Holy Place was the Most Holy Place. The two were separated by a curtain. In front of the curtain was a golden altar of incense. Inside the Most Holy Place was the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark of the Covenant was a gold covered box that contained a jar of manna, Aaron's rod that budded and the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. Each of these objects held special significance for the people of God. The manna was a reminder of how God had rescued them from the bondage of Egypt and cared for them in the wilderness. Aaron's rod reminded the people of how God had chosen a priesthood to represent them before him. The tablets with the Ten Commandments contained the requirement of God for his people and how they were to live.
The ark had a golden cover on it with two golden cherubim. The cover was called the atonement cover. It was here between the wings of the angels that the Lord God would reveal his presence to his people.
When all these things were in place, the priests would enter the Holy Place (the first room) to offer their sacrifices and carry on their ministry before God for the people. Only the High Priest, however, could enter the inner room (the Most Holy Place). He could only enter once a year (verse 7). Before he entered the Most Holy Place, how-ever, he needed to offer a sacrifice for himself and the people.
In verse 8, we see that all these sacrifices showed that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been opened. As we have seen, the Most Holy Place was where the presence of God was revealed. Because of sin, one person could enter the presence of God, only once a year, after first atoning for his own sins. This old tabernacle constantly reminded those who ministered there of their sin and separation from God. Blood poured from its altars every day reminding them of their ongoing need for forgiveness. The curtain that separated God's presence from his people reminded them of the great barrier between God and his people. The way to God had not yet been fully opened up.
Despite all the sacrifices offered in this tabernacle, the curtain that separated God from man remained closed. No amount of sacrifice could bridge the gap to open the curtain between God and man (see verse 9). It is quite significant that when the Lord Jesus died, the curtain in the temple that separated man from God in the Most Holy Place was ripped from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). In other words, what the constant sacrifice of animals could not accomplish, the Lord Jesus accomplished in one sacrifice. His sacrifice would open the way for humanity to enter the presence of a Holy God.
All the regulations for the tabernacle under the old covenant, the food, drink and ceremonial washings, all looked forward to what the Lord Jesus would accomplish on the cross for us. We see clearly from verse 10 that these regulations were only temporary until the new covenant came.
Jesus came as our High Priest. He was not from the Levitical priesthood. That priesthood had accomplished what God intended it to, and then God established a new priesthood in Christ. Jesus entered the Most Holy Place to meet with his father on our behalf. This Most Holy Place was not a creation of man on earth like that of the old tabernacle (verse 11). Jesus went directly into the presence of his Father in heaven. Jesus did not enter the presence of Father by offering a sacrifice of goats and calves. He offered himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sin (verse 12).
The difference between the sacrifice of Levi and that of the Lord Jesus is that Christ's sacrifice would never have to be repeated. His perfect sacrifice fully satisfied all the demands of a holy God. Through that one sacrifice, the Lord Jesus obtained an "eternal redemption" for all who would come to him. That is to say, his sacrifice covered all our sins forever. Never again will the sins of the past, present or future be able to separate God’s children from their heavenly Father.
Jesus entered a more perfect tabernacle. He made a perfect sacrifice. He offered a perfect salvation. After sacrificing his own body, Christ entered the heaven itself and pulled down the curtain that separated us from God. His work removed all barriers. We now have access, through his work to the Father in heaven.
* Why was it so important for the priests of the Old Testament to follow precisely all the directions God had laid out for them in the worship of the tabernacle?
* How did God reveal himself in the tabernacle?
* Could the sacrifices of the Levitical priesthood open the curtain that separated people from God? What is the significance in the fact that after Jesus died that curtain was ripped from top to bottom?
* What sacrifice did Jesus make before entering the presence of the Father for us? How was that sacrifice better than the sacrifices of the Old Testament priests?
* Thank God that we can now boldly enter the presence of God because of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.
* Thank the Lord Jesus for the sacrifice of his life for you. Praise him that his sacrifice ended all sacrifices for sin.
* Ask the Lord to help you to enter more boldly into his presence. Ask him to reveal himself more fully to you.
Read Hebrews 9:13-28
We saw in the first part of this chapter that the Lord Jesus, as our great High Priest, entered into the Most Holy Place in heaven for us. Like the priests of the Old Testament, the Lord Jesus entered the presence of God by means of a sacrifice. That sacrifice was not the sacrifice of a bull or goat. It was the sacrifice of his body. His sacrifice was a perfect sacrifice and paid the penalty for our sins, satisfying the justice of the Lord God. Never again would there need to be another sacrifice for sin. This one sacrifice of Christ paid the penalty for all time.
The author of the book of Hebrews reminded his readers in verse 13, that under the old covenant the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer, when sprinkled on an individual, would purify them from their ceremonial uncleanness and make them outwardly clean before God. Notice that this blood and the ashes did not change the heart of man. It ceremonially cleansed the outside but changed nothing on the inside.
The sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, however, was very different. Notice in verse 14 that his sacrifice cleanses not only the outside but the conscience as well. Christ’s sacrifice rids those who accept it of all guilt. Cleansed by his blood, they can stand before a holy God pure and undefiled, without guilt. The sacrifice of the Lord Jesus bridged the gap between God and man. Cleansed of our sin, we can now serve him with a clean conscience.
From the very beginning the Lord God knew that the Old Covenant with all its laws and regulations was not what would change man's heart and bridge the gap between him and his Creator. This was not its intent. The intent of the law of the old covenant was to show us our need and point us to Christ as the only answer. The Lord Jesus came to be the mediator of a new covenant. Notice in verse 15 that the purpose of this new covenant was to bring God’s called ones into their inheritance through the forgiveness of their sins.
In Old Testament times, for a covenant agreement to be binding, it had to be sealed by the shedding of blood. An animal was sacrificed and the blood spilled so that the agreement between the two parties would be official. Until that blood was shed, there was no legal agreement. Something had to die or the covenant was not valid (see verse 17). In reality, what the parties involved were saying was that if they were not faithful to their part of the agreement; then they willingly accepted to die like the sacrificed animal. There could be nothing more serious. The consequence of breaking a covenant was death.
It was for this reason that under the Old Covenant there was so much shedding of blood. The Old Covenant was a binding and legal contract between God and man, validated by the blood of the many animals that were shed. We have a very clear example of this in Exodus 24:4-8 quoted in verses 19-20:
When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.”
It is clear from this that blood played a very important role in the making of agreements and covenants in the Old Testament period. This blood sealed the covenant and made it official.
There is also something else about blood in the law of the Old Testament. The Lord God required that everything be cleansed by blood (see verse 22). It was for this reason that Moses sprinkled the people, the tabernacle and its objects. The shedding of blood reminded the people of the seriousness of sin and of breaking the covenant. Because the covenant was based on the shedding of blood, the only forgiveness for the breaking of that covenant was further shedding of blood. This is why the writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers that without the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness of sin. Not only did blood validate a covenant but it was also the means of forgiving the breaking of a covenant. Every time a sin was committed and the covenant broken, an animal needed to be killed and its bloodshed. Millions of sacrifices had to be made for the sin of the people of God in the Old Testament period.
The new covenant Jesus came to establish is based on similar principles. Blood also needed to be shed for this new covenant to be certified and valid. Jesus’ blood sealed a new agreement between God and his people.
There was a significant difference between the Old Covenant made with Israel and the covenant Jesus made with his people. In verse 25, we also discover that Jesus did not need to enter the presence of his Father over and over again like the priests of the old covenant. These priests had to enter every year into the Most Holy Place after making a blood sacrifice for themselves and the sins of the people. The one time sacrifice of the Lord Jesus covered sin for all time. Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient for all my sin and all the sins of those who will come to him. That one payment covers all and never needs to be repeated. When Jesus entered the presence of his father in heaven he did so once for all time.
The writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers that every man and women is destined to die and face the judgment. By the one sacrifice of Christ, however, the sins of many were taken away. This is our only hope in life and in death. Notice in verse 28, however, that the writer tells us that Christ’s sacrifice took away the sins “of many people”. This shows us that not everyone will have their sins taken away. Many will, but there will also be those whose sins will not be forgiven. Only those who accept Christ's sacrifice on their behalf can know this forgiveness. Unless we recognize and accept his blood as payment for our sin there can be no forgiveness.
The day is coming when the Lord Jesus will return (verse 28). The first time he came to offer the sacrifice of himself for our sin. When he comes again, however, he will come to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
While our salvation has been accomplished though the finished work of Christ on the cross, we have not yet experienced the fullness of our salvation. This will only be experienced when the Lord Jesus returns again to bring us to heaven with him. Then we will shed our fleshly nature and live forever in the presence of the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus will come for those who belong to him and bring them into his presence where they will rejoice in his wonderful salvation forever.
We see the role of blood in the Old and New Covenants. By shedding his blood, Jesus made his new covenant official. By dying, he provided forgiveness for all who would accept his work. His death covered all our sin. Only through his blood can we enter this new covenant relationship with God. His covenant is a better covenant than that of the Old Testament. His sacrifice was a one-time sacrifice covering all our sin for all time and cleansing not only the external but even our conscience.
* What is the difference between the Old Testament sacrifices and the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus?
* Why does forgiveness require the shedding of blood? How do we receive forgiveness today? What role does blood play in this today?
* What does the fact that the Lord Jesus shed his blood to validate the new covenant teach us about how seriously God takes this covenant agreement with his people today?
* What does the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus accomplish that the sacrifices of the Old Testament could not accomplish?
* Thank the Lord that he willingly laid down his life so that we could enter a new covenant relationship with God.
* Thank him that his blood brings forgiveness and pardon for all our sin.
* Ask him to forgive you for the times you have not taken your relationship with him seriously. Ask him to help you to understand the seriousness of the new covenant relationship you have with him today.
Read Hebrews 10:1-18
We saw in the last meditation the importance of blood in the establishing of a covenant relationship. The writer to the Hebrews has been comparing the old covenant and all its laws and regulations with the new covenant that Jesus came to mediate. In the last section, he compared the blood that was shed each day under the old covenant with the blood of Christ that was shed once for all time. In this next section, the author continues on this same theme.
In verse 1, the reader is reminded that the law of the Old Testament was only a shadow of better things to come. Maybe you have seen the shadow of someone approaching. As they approach, the shadow moves ahead of them. There is a big difference between the shadow and the person who makes that shadow. The law of the Old Testament was like a shadow. Behind that shadow was the real thing. The reality is much better than the shadow. The shadow is at best a poor reflection of the real thing but it is a reflection nonetheless. As good as the law of the Old Testament was, it was not the final answer for the salvation of man.
The law, with all its sacrifices, could never make an individual perfect (verse 1). We shouldn’t necessarily see the word, perfect, to mean free from sin. The idea here has more to do with being without guilt. In other words, the sacrifices of the Old Testament could not cleanse a person of all their guilt and make them right with God. Though sacrifices were offered each day for years, they could never change the hearts of God’s people or make them right with Him. Despite the many sacrifices, God’s people continued to fall into sin (see verse 2). Sin continued as an obstacle between God and his people.
If the sacrifices of the Old Testament could deal with the sins of God’s people they would not have had to be repeated over and over again. The sacrifice of bulls and goats was not enough to forgive and change the heart. The death of these animals did not heal the problem of sin. It covered it over for a time but sin was still evident in the hearts of man.
What was the purpose of these sacrifices if they did not actually cure the problem of sin? In verse 3, the writer to the Hebrews told his readers that these sacrifices were intended to be a reminder to God’s people of their sin and shortcomings. Every time a bull, goat, lamb or bird was offered as a sacrifice, it showed God’s people that sin was still a problem. It showed them that the final solution had not yet come.
There are those who believe that saints of the Old Testament were saved by their sacrifices. This is not the case. Verse 4 is very clear about this. The writer to the Hebrews told his readers that it was absolutely impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. Not a single individual was saved from their sin because of the sacrifice of a bull or goat. If this were possible then the Lord Jesus would never have had to come.
It was because these sacrifices could not save his people from their sin that the Lord Jesus came. The Psalmist spoke of this in Psalm 40:6-8. The author quotes him in verses 5-7.
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.’ Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.’
Notice what this passage says. The Psalmist, who himself was under the old covenant, was making a very radical statement. He was telling his readers that the Lord did not desire sacrifices and offerings. How would this have been received by the people of his day? While God required that these sacrifices and offerings be made in this Old Testament period; this was not his desire for all time.
Again, notice here that burnt offerings and sin offerings did not please the Lord. It is true that they covered the outward uncleanness and averted the anger of the Lord for a time but again, we need to see that none of these sacrifices truly pleased the Lord or satisfied his justice. They covered the sin for a time but did not bring a cure to the sin problem.
Notice as well, in this quote from the book of Psalms, that while the Lord was not pleased with the burnt offerings and sacrifices, he did provide an alternative. Here in the book of Psalms the Psalmist told his readers very clearly that God had prepared a body for them. What is this body he prepared? This could not be anything other than the body of the Lord Jesus which was offered as a perfect sacrifice. The Spirit of God revealed to the Psalmist, many years before it came to pass, that the Lord Jesus would come and offer his body as a perfect sacrifice for sin. This was the purpose of God from the very beginning of time. It shows us that the law was only a temporary measure until the Lord Jesus came.
The Lord Jesus came to this earth, as the Psalmist tells us in verse 7, to do the will of the Father. That will of God was for him to lay down his life as a perfect sacrifice for our salvation. Jesus came to be the perfect Lamb sacrificed for our sin.
In verse 9, it is quite clear that the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus changed everything. By his death on the cross, Jesus set aside the first covenant to seal a second. When Jesus laid down his life he offered a sacrifice that had never been offered before. Nor would that sacrifice ever have to be offered again. Christ's sacrifice ended the need for all other sacrifice. With his perfect sacrifice, the regulations of the old covenant regarding the slaughtering of animals were set aside never to be required again. Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for all sin (see verse 10).
Notice in verse 10 that we are made holy by the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on our behalf. We are not a holy people because we live good lives. We are made holy through Christ’s sacrifice. That sacrifice of the Lord Jesus forgives all saints of the Old and New Testament. It gives all who come to Christ a right standing with the Father. They are not perfect but they are forgiven and cleansed of all their sin. This makes them a holy people.
Under the old covenant, priests would offer the same sacrifices to God day after day in an attempt to cover the guilt of sin (verse 11). Hundreds of thousands of animals were slaughtered but the guilt of sin could never be removed. Men and women were still guilty before God and separated from him. Jesus, on the other hand, offered his life once for all time. When he had made his sacrifice, he went to his Father and sat as his right hand (verse 12). This was the place of honor. The fact that he sat at the right hand of the Father after making his sacrifice proved that his death was accepted by the father. The father accepted his sacrifice and in his pleasure called his son to sit at his right hand.
Verse 13 tells us that since he rose from the dead and went to be with his Father, the Lord has been waiting at the right hand of the Father for his enemies to be made his footstool. The footstool is where we put our feet and is a symbol of victory. The Lord Jesus now waits for his work to produce the desired effects in the lives of his people around the world. Like a seed planted in the soil, his sacrifice would spring up and produce a mighty harvest. We have seen the effects of his death in our own lives as the power of Satan was broken and we become children of God. The effects of Christ's sacrifice continue to transform this world. People from every nation are coming to him. The picture painted here is one of the Lord Jesus now waiting, at the right hand of the father, for his work to accomplish all that the Father intended it to accomplish.
Through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, sin is being conquered. We are being changed. Each day, we are becoming more and more like Jesus. The sacrifice of Jesus continues to break the power of the enemy. What Christ began on the cross of Calvary is spanning the globe. Generation after generation is hearing of this work and turning their lives over to him. The Kingdom of God is advancing and Satan is helpless to stop it. From the right hand of the Father, the Lord watches as his work trans-forms the world. His enemies are being brought down and becoming his footstool.
Jeremiah the prophet looked forward to the day when God would establish a new covenant with his people. Quoting from Jeremiah 31:33-34, the writer to the He-brews writes in verses 16-17:
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: "This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
Notice two things that Jeremiah told his people about this new covenant God would make. First, under this new covenant, the Lord would write his word on the hearts and minds of his people. This would happen when the Holy Spirit came to live in the believer. When he came, he would teach God's people to follow his ways. When he came, he would change them from the inside. He would put a new nature in them that understood and sought after the Lord. This new nature would be totally different from the old nature. It would love God and seek him and his Word.
The second characteristic of this new covenant, according to Jeremiah, was that all who were under it would be forgiven of their sin. Those who entered this new covenant relationship with God came through the sacrifice of Christ. All their sins were covered by that sacrifice.
This means that you don't have to do any more for your salvation to be complete. You don't have to work to earn it. You don't have to “clean up your act.” You just come as you are with all your guilt and sin to the cross where the sacrifice was made and claim it as your own. There is complete and total forgiveness in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. When we come to him and accept, by faith, his sacrifice, God seals his covenantal commitment to us by writing his law on our heart. Those who enter this new covenant by means of the blood of the Lord Jesus, experience a change of heart, desire, character and will. They are transformed and kept by the Holy Spirit as new creatures until they enter forever into the presence of their God in heaven. This was something the old covenant could never do.
* What did the author to the Hebrews mean when he said that the Old Testament law was a shadow of things to come?
* How were the saints of the Old Testament saved from sin? Were the sacrifices of bulls and goats enough?
* What did the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus accomplish that all the sacrifices of the Old Testament could not?
* How do we know that the sacrifice of the Lord Je-sus pleased the Father?
* What is the ongoing effect of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus in our world today? What is his sacrifice accomplishing in you personally today?
* Thank the Lord that you are living in a time the prophets could only look forward to in faith. Thank him that you have experienced new life in Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in you.
* Thank the Lord for the way his sacrifice put an end to all other sacrifice. Thank him that there is nothing more to be done for our salvation.
* Take a moment to confess that you are guilty and in need of a sacrifice for sin. Open your heart to accept Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf.
* What effect has the sacrifice of Christ had for you today? Take a moment to thank the Lord for the way his sacrifice has changed your life.
Read Hebrews 10:19-25
The author to the Hebrews begins, in verse 19, by reminding his reader that since the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus there was no separation between God and his people. Through Christ’s sacrifice, we have access to the Most Holy Place where God dwells. The High Priest alone could only enter the Most Holy Place once a year, after making a sacrifice for his own sin and the sins of the people. This Most Holy Place was separated from the rest of the temple by a great curtain. Any unauthorized person who dared to enter would die. The way to God was barred. Sinful man could not approach a holy God. When the Lord Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was ripped from the top to the bottom (Matthew 27:51). This was a clear sign that through the death of Christ the way to God was now opened. In light of this powerful truth there are four things the author of the book of Hebrews exhorts his readers in do. Each of these exhortations begins with the phrase "let us." We will examine them here in some detail.
Let Us Draw Near
Because the Lord Jesus has opened the door to God for us, we need to draw near. What a shame it would be for us never to approach this wonderful God when the door has been opened and we have been invited into his presence.
Because Jesus paid the penalty in full we can draw near to God. Why do we draw near? We do so for fellowship and protection. The writer to the Hebrews is challenging us to fellowship with the Father in the security of his presence. This was not possible under the old covenant. Notice in verse 22, however, that we need to draw near with a sincere heart. A sincere heart is a heart that is free from deceit and sin. We are told that as we approach this holy God, we are to do so in sincerity by having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from our guilt and our bodies washed with pure water. If we want to approach God, we must first deal with the question of the sin in our heart that separates us from him. This is why the Lord Jesus came. He came to cleanse us of our sin. The context seems to indicate that this has already happened. We can have confidence that the Lord’s sacrifice on our behalf has cleansed us of our sin. Our hearts had been sprinkled with the blood of Christ to cleanse them and their guilty conscience removed through his forgiveness. We can draw near because Christ has forgiven and cleansed us.
In verse 22, the writer to the Hebrews told his readers that they were also to draw near in full assurance of faith. Faith is very important if you want to come to God. The reality of the matter is that you will very likely not see God appear before you and reveal himself to you in a spectacular way. You may not hear his voice speaking to you audibly as he did to Moses in the Old Testament. You have his Word contained in the Scriptures. You have the conviction of his Holy Spirit. You simply have to believe what God says and stake your life on his promises. You will have to come before God believing that the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus is sufficient to grant access into the presence of the Father. Come boldly, not on your own merit but by faith in what Christ has done. As we draw near to God, we must do so having been cleansed by the Lord Jesus from our sin and believing by faith the he will be true to his word and promises.
Let Us Hold to the Hope
Having come to the Lord Jesus we must now hold "unswervingly" to the hope he has given us (verse 23). To hold "unswervingly" to something is to hold something securely. The author told his readers to hold onto the hope they professed without letting go. What was that hope? It was the hope of salvation and eternal life through the work of the Lord Jesus. It was the hope of forgiveness from all our sins and a right standing with God. While the gift of salvation is free, we need to realize that it will not always be easy. The Lord Jesus demonstrated to us in life just how difficult it would be to live for God. Countless saints have been persecuted and martyred for their faith and hope in Christ. Those who have approached the Lord God in faith and sincerity of heart are called to be faithful even to death. We are to do this because all the promises of God are true. The one who made these promises to us will keep his promise. He cannot lie. Our only hope is in the Lord Jesus. There is nowhere else to go. Those who belong to him will understand this and cling to him. They will not deviate from the path he has laid out for them but hold unswervingly to his promises no matter the cost.
Let Us Spur One Another On
The Lord has been showing me recently that I cannot live the Christian life on my own. Not only do I need his strength to persevere to the end but I also need my brothers and sisters in Christ. God has gifted them with gifts from his Holy Spirit to minister to me in my time of need.
The writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers, in verse 24, that they needed each other. He challenged them, in light of the difficulty that lay ahead, to encourage each other in the faith. In particular, he challenged them to spur one another on to love and good deeds. I need to watch out for my brothers and sisters in the faith. I need their support and they need mine. God has called us to live in community. As the days of the Lord’s return draw near, God’s people will need each other more and more.
Let Us Not Give Up Meeting Together
This principle is closely related to the first. Again we see that in light of what the Lord has done for us and the difficulties that lie ahead for the believer, we are to make a habit of fellowshipping with other believers (verse 25). That fellowship can come in various forms. It is not exclusively found in church attendance. Some of the greatest times of fellowship I have had have been one on one with a brother in Christ speaking about the Lord. The call here is for us to meet with other godly believers on a regular basis for fellowship and encouragement. We need to be accountable to each other. We need each other's prayers and encouragement.
Notice in particular that this meeting together needs to happen all the more as the Day of the Lord approaches. The day is coming when our enemy will be given greater freedom. He will be set loose to do his evil in our land. The Bible tells us that as the end approaches, it will be like it was in the days of Noah with each person doing what pleases him or her (Matthew 24:37-39). There will be less concern for God and his purposes (2 Timothy 3:1-5). Believers will be rejected by the society (Matthew 24:9). As things become more difficult, the believer will need to meet with other believers for support and encouragement.
In light of what the Lord Jesus has done for us, we are to approach him with a sincere heart in full assurance. We are to hold firmly to his promises to us, encouraging and supporting each other in the difficulties that are ahead. The road will not be easy. We will need the deep fellow-ship of the Father, the reminder of his promises and the support and encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is by this means that God’s true servants will persevere to the end.
* How are we to approach God? What has Christ done for us that enables us to approach?
* What does it mean to hold onto the hope we have? What are the temptations that would keep us from holding onto that hope?
* What do we learn here about the importance of the body of Christ? What role do your brothers and sisters play in your walk with God?
* What does this passage teach us about how to persevere in trials and difficulties?
* Thank the Lord for his faithfulness to all his promises. Thank him that we can be sure of his promises.
* Ask the Lord to give you the strength and courage to hold onto the hope he has given you to the end.
* Ask the Lord how you can encourage and minister to your brothers and sisters in Christ.
* Have you been ministered to by a brother or sister? Take a moment to thank the Lord for the way he has used them in your life.
Read Hebrews 10:26-39
The author to the Hebrews challenged his readers, in the previous section, to hold onto the hope they had in the Lord Jesus Christ. He called them to persevere in light of the fact that the Lord Jesus offered himself for them as a sin offering. This sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on their behalf demanded that they turn from their sin and live for him.
In verse 26, the writer to the Hebrews warns his readers about deliberately sinning after they had come to under-stand what Jesus had done for them. We need to say a few things about deliberate sin. When we speak of deliberate sin, we are speaking about sins that do not come from ignorance or weakness. In other words, we can all commit sin in a moment of weakness. Sometimes we fall into sin because we are not mature enough in the Scriptures to recognize that what we are doing is wrong. This is not what we are speaking about when we speak about deliberate sin.
We see in verse 26 that deliberate sin is sin done while having knowledge of truth. In other words, the person who commits a deliberate sin knows that what he or she is doing is wrong but they do it anyway. Deliberate sin is not even a matter of weakness in the flesh. The person we speak about here has the ability to resist sin but refuses to do so. These people are unwilling to make the changes necessary to be right with God. Even though the Spirit of God convicts them of their sin, they continue to rebel and go their own way.
We are told that those who continue to live in sin have stripped themselves of all hope of forgiveness because they have refused to place their sin under the blood of the Lord Jesus. In reality they are saying: "I'd rather have my sin. I don't care that Jesus died to set me free. I reject his sacrifice and keep my sin." How terrible it is to come to this point in life.
What hope do we have if we turn our backs on the Lord Jesus and his sacrifice for us? We have seen that sin demands a sacrifice. The only sacrifice that can cover sin is the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. If we reject him and his forgiveness, we will have to face the wrath of God. While forgiveness is freely offered to all who will accept it, judgment and raging fire awaits all who refuse him (verse 27).
God showed us under the old covenant that the penalty for sin was death. In most cases this was the death of an animal. In other cases, however, God required that, on the basis of two or three witnesses, the individual who willfully broke his law was to be punished by death (verse 28).
If this is how people who deliberately broke the law of God were treated under the old covenant, how much more serious is it under the new covenant mediated by the Lord Jesus? There are those who believe that while God demonstrated this sort of justice in the Old Testament he is much more lenient in the New Testament. What the writer to the Hebrews told his readers here, however, contradicts this idea. He told them in verse 29 that those who refuse the work of the Lord Jesus and deliberately continue in their sin, are more deserving of punishment then those who lived under the old covenant. The reason for this is because they have trampled the Son of God under foot. To trample the Lord Jesus is to turn one’s back on him. It is as if we took the gift of forgiveness, threw it on the ground and proceeded to stamp all over it to show that we despised his gift. What an insult to one who laid down his life for our forgiveness. If under the old covenant those who touched a holy thing were punished by death, how much more should those who treat the death of Christ, the Son of God with con-tempt deserve to die?
God will not hesitate to judge those who refuse his offer of salvation and forgiveness. To prove his point the writer quotes from Deuteronomy 32:35 in verse 30:
For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”
The promise of God in the Old Testament was that he would avenge sin. He would repay evil with judgment. He would judge his people for their sin. We have the promise of a God who cannot lie; that he will judge sin and evil. There can be nothing more certain than this. It is a dreadful thing for us to fall into the hands of the living God (verse 31). His wrath and vengeance are real. We only see glimpses of this wrath in the Old Testament. We have yet to see the full extent of his anger.
The writer called the Hebrews to remember the earlier days just after they had come to the Lord Jesus (verse 32). Those were difficult days for the Hebrew believers. They had to stand firm in the midst of tremendous suffering (see verse 33). Some of them were publicly exposed and insulted. The persecution they faced was very real. Sometimes they would even stand unashamed beside those who were being persecuted, identifying with them and the cause they represented (verse 33). In those early days, after their conversion to Christ, some were thrown in prison for their faith. When their possessions were taken, these believers accepted their loss with joy because they were suffering for Christ and knew that he had something greater in store for them (verse 34).
The Hebrew Christians were encouraged to stand in that same confidence they had when they first came to know the Lord (verse 35), not allowing their confidence to slip. God would reward them for their faithfulness. They were to persevere in doing the will of God. There would be trials and suffering. They would be hated, mocked and thrown into prison. Some would have to lay down their lives. God was not blind to these things. The day was coming when they would receive their reward. In the meantime, they were to be careful to honor the Lord Jesus; remembering his sacrifice and the blood of the covenant that was spilled for them.
The day of the Lord's return was coming. He promised to return for his own. On that day all suffering and trial would end. They would be with him forever. Being with the Lord Jesus would make all the suffering they had to face worthwhile. The pain and suffering they would face could not be compared to the delight of being in the presence of the Lord forever.
In verse 38, the author reminded his readers of the word God spoke through the prophet in Habakkuk 2:3-4:
But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.
The righteous person, according to this verse, will live by faith. The eyes of the righteous are focused on God and his promises. The one who lives by faith chooses to trust God no matter what happens. When persecution and trials come their way they lift up their eyes to the Lord and place their confidence in his promises. They know that God will carry them through. Their treasure is not in this world. They do not shrink back in times of difficulty. They persevere with their eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus and his promise.
We conclude chapter 10 with a word of encouragement. The writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers that he was confident that their faith was genuine. He reminded them that they were of such a character that they would not shrink back in times of trouble. Instead, they would persevere in their faith and were saved. While we are not saved because we persevere, those who are truly saved will persevere. The true test of the genuineness of our salvation is that we are faithful to the end. There are many who confess Jesus as Lord but who fall away when things get difficult. The faith of the true believer, however, is tested through time and trials. People of true faith may suffer much, but their love for the Lord and the faith the Spirit of God has put in their hearts keeps them so that they do not shrink back?
* What is deliberate sin? How can you tell if some-one is guilty of deliberate or willful sin?
* What does the writer to the Hebrews tell us about those who refuse the offer of forgiveness that Je-sus brings?
* What do we learn about the judgment of God in this passage?
* What role does perseverance play in revealing true faith?
* How does faith keep us when trials come our way?
* Ask the Lord to protect and keep you from sin.
* Thank the Lord for the wonderful forgiveness he offers.
* Thank God that he will judge sin and evil. Praise him that he is a holy God.
* Ask that the Lord give you strength to face what-ever persecution comes your way. Ask him to help you to honor him in the trials he sends your way.
Read Hebrews 11:1-16
We saw in the last meditation that the test of true faith was perseverance. Real faith will stand the test of trials and struggle. The writer to the Hebrews was quite confident that his readers had true faith. The fact that true faith requires perseverance is an indication that the Christian life will not always be easy. There will be struggles and trials to overcome. We will not always be accepted. Some will be persecuted or even killed be-cause of their commitment to the Lord Jesus. Many who have gone before us willingly risked all for the sake of Christ.
As we begin chapter 11, the writer takes time to define faith. He tells us that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. We need to take a moment to reflect on this.
Faith is being sure of what we hope for. Often when we use the word hope we express a certain doubt. "I hope to be able to do this or that," usually means that if everything goes well and my life is spared then I will do it. The hope the writer to the Hebrews writes about here is a much more than an uncertain desire to do or see something. The hope he speaks about here is so certain that we can stake our lives on it. It is a certain confidence in what God had promised.
It is quite easy to be certain of things we see right in front of us. I know that I am sitting in a chair typing right now. I am sure of this because I am presently experiencing it. I can see other people around me. I am sure that they are in the same coffee shop as I am right now. This does not take faith. I see with my eyes and hear with my ears. Anyone can have assurance of the things they can see and hear around them. Faith, on the other hand, is an assurance of things we cannot see. I don't see God with me right now as I write but by faith I accept that he is here. I know this because he told me that he would never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). I have his promise and though I do not see him with my eyes I believe he is with me.
There is another aspect to faith that we need to see. There are those who have come to understand certain things about God. They understand him to be a sovereign and all-powerful God. They understand and believe that God "can" do all things. While knowledge about God is important, it is still not really what true faith is all about. It is quite possible to believe that God can do something and quite another to realize that he will do it in your situation. You cannot say you have faith if you really don't believe that God will be faithful to his word in your situation. I can believe that God "can" provide for my needs but seriously doubt if he will in the situation I am presently facing. You can only risk everything if you have absolute assurance that God will keep you and work all things out for his glory and your good. Faith is an assurance and certainty not merely a doctrinal understanding. Faith touches more than the mind, it also influences our behaviour.
Those who have true faith are so sure about the things they believe that they will willingly risk everything. Even when their eyes and ears tell them something different, they would rather trust what God says than the evidence around them. According to verse 2, it was for this faith that the saints of old were commended.
It is by faith that we accept that the universe was created by the command of God (verse 3). No human being was present when the universe was created. God spoke and the world was created from nothing. How do we know this? We cannot prove it by science, though it is the only logical way to understand how this world came into being. This is something we accept by faith. God told us in the Scriptures that he created the world. We accept this by faith because we know God and his character. We have never seen God. We were not present when the world was created but we know God cannot lie. We trust what he says.
It was by faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did (verse 4). What we need to understand is that both Cain and Abel’s sacrifices were acceptable according to the Old Testament law. It was acceptable under the old covenant to bring a lamb or to offer the fruit of one's garden. The key to understanding this verse is not in the type of sacrifice that was offered but in the faith that went along with the sacrifice. Notice in verse 4 that Abel was commended as a righteous man. In other words, God accepted his offering not because of what he offered but because he was a righteous man who offered his sacrifice with faith in God. Cain on the other hand did not have the right attitude. He did not come to God with faith but rather with bitterness in his heart toward his brother. God accepted Abel's sacrifice because of the faith that went with it. If we want our worship to be accepted by God we must come to him in faith. We must come expecting to meet with him. We must serve believing what he says. We do not honour God if we come to worship him while questioning deep down in our heart if he really is who we say he is. Only when worship is accompanied by faith is it acceptable to God.
Enoch, too, demonstrated faith in his time (verse 5). In an age where men and women were turning away from God, Enoch trusted God and lived for him. This pleased God so much that he kept him from death. He took him directly to be with him. Enoch’s faith enabled him to resist the temptations of his day. He stood alone against the current of faithlessness and worldliness. He believed God and this was demonstrated in obedience in a time when everyone else was turning from God. In Enoch's case, God felt that the world was unworthy of having such a man in their midst and so he took him to be with him.
Verse 6 makes it very clear that if we do not have faith we cannot please God. If you come to God, you must believe with all your heart that he exists and that he will hear you and answer your cry. You must believe this so strongly that you will not let him go until he has revealed himself to you. It would do no good to cry out to someone you don't really believe was there. What good would it be to pray to God if you did not believe he hears and answers prayers? We would be wasting our time to pray if we did not believe that God existed and would hear and answer. We do not honour God if we question whether he will be true to his word.
In verse 7, the writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers of how Noah was warned about a flood. There were no clear signs of this coming flood. All Noah had was the word of the Lord. He built a boat when there was no water around to float that boat. He did so because he heard a word from God and trusted what God told him. He trusted God enough to devote the months that followed to building that boat despite the fact that his neighbours considered him a fool.
Faith calls us to obedience. It calls us to risk our reputation. It requires effort and hard work even when we do not see immediate results or things do not make sense. It is this sort of faith that keeps us going in ministries when we see no results. It was what kept the apostle Paul moving from city to city even after being stoned for preaching that gospel. How many times would you have given up your ministry if it were not for a conviction deep down in your heart that this was what God was calling you to do? Noah is commended for his faith in God. God was pleased with him. He is a father of those who trust God by faith even in our day (verse 7).
In a very similar way, Abraham demonstrated his faith by leaving his homeland and all he knew to go to the place to which God was calling him (verse 8). He did not know the dangers that were ahead. He did not know how he was going to provide for the needs of his family as he traveled. He did not even know where he was going. Humanly speaking it made no sense for Abraham to leave everything to set out on a journey to an unknown territory. What would await him in that land? Would the inhabitants of the land be friendly or would they be hostile? Abraham did not have answers to these questions but it really didn't matter. His faith allowed him to trust God for his future. He believed that if God was leading him, he would also provide and go before him. Abraham's faith allowed him to step into the unknown. He did not see the immediate fulfillment of the purpose of God. He moved through the deserts living in tents. He was a stranger in the land that would in time become his own. Even his sons Isaac and Jacob lived this wandering lifestyle (verse 9). They failed to see how God would hand this land over to their descendants. Faith will take us through these times. When we walk by faith like Abraham, we do not need to have all the answers. Abraham believed that God would do what was right in his time. His faith also enabled him to look not only for a city with foundations in this earth but to a great city that God himself would build (verse 10).
Another aspect to the faith of Abraham had to do with his descendants. God promised to make his descendants a great nation but he did not have a son and he and his wife were well past the age of bearing children. The writer to the Hebrews told his readers that Abraham demonstrated faith in the promise of God to give him a son (verse 11). While humanly it was impossible for him to have another child at his age, Abraham trusted in the faithfulness of the God who made the promise to him. Not only was God faithful to his promise but he also gave Abraham descendants who were as numerous as the stars of the sky (verse 12).
Faith believes even when things seem to be impossible. It believes even in death. The answer may not come in this lifetime but faith looks beyond this life. The grave is the end of my earthly existence but it is not the end of the faithfulness of God. He will still be faithful when I am gone.
These men and women of faith were not people of this earth. They lived here but their hearts were in heaven. They were strangers on this earth (verse 13). They did not think and see things like other people. They did not limit themselves to worldly sight. They looked with the eyes of faith. They cared very little for this world and its possessions. These things had little attraction for them. Their hearts were focused on the things of heaven. God was not ashamed to call them his children. They honoured him by their faith. God was pleased with them. He prepared a city for them (verse 16). There they would live with him forever.
* How does the writer to the Hebrews define faith in this chapter?
* What is the difference between believing that God can do something and believing that he will?
* Would you be willing to stake your life on the promises of God?
* What role does faith have in worship? Can we worship without faith?
* What is the connection between faith and action? How does faith affect our lifestyle?
* What will faith risk?
* What do we learn in this section about how much faith pleases God?
* How would you compare your faith to the people we meet here in this chapter? Ask God to in-crease your faith.
* Are you facing a particular problem right now in your life? Ask God to help you to trust him in this.
* Thank God that he will always be faithful to his promises. Thank him that we can count on him completely even when we do not understand his ways.
Read Hebrews 11:17-40
We have been considering the importance of faith in our walk with God. We have seen that faith is an assurance of the things God has promised. This assurance is so real that we willingly stake our lives on it. As we continue, the writer gives us more practical examples of true faith.
In verse 17, the author shows us the extent of Abraham’s faith. Even after receiving the promised son, he went to the mountain to sacrifice him on an altar according to the word of the Lord. He was so sure of the word of God for him that he willingly risked the greatest treasure he had. He knew the promise that God had made to him, that he would be the father of many nations. He did not under-stand what God was asking him to do and how God would give him offspring through this son if he was to kill him. He was willing, however, to trust God to raise his son from the dead in order to fulfill His promise.
Abraham's faith demonstrated his deep assurance of God’s word. There was no doubt in his mind about what God was telling him to do. He trusted in what God was leading him to do much more than in his human reason. Do you have such a sense of the leading of God that you could step out like Abraham, placing the greatest treasure you have on the altar? For some this will mean leaving their homes and loved ones to serve him on some foreign field. For others it will mean surrendering their wandering children to him and believing that he will care for them in their rebellion. Faith will sacrifice all in its trust in God.
That same faith was passed down to Abraham's son Isaac. He blessed his two sons Jacob and Esau, telling them that God would multiply their descendants and give them the inheritance promised to his father Abraham. Isaac did not see the fulfillment of this promise in his lifetime, but he trusted that God would be faithful to his word (see verse 20).
Jacob, Isaac's son also passed on that same faith to his children. He, too, blessed his children in his old age, reminding them of the promise that God had made to his grandfather Abraham (verse 21).
In verse 22, we see that another generation passed and still there were believers who held on to the promise of God to Abraham. When Joseph was in Egypt, he commanded his brothers to take his bones out of Egypt and bury him in the land that God had promised to Abraham. Generations had passed and still they trusted the promise of God for a land of their own. How much time do you give God to accomplish his promises in your life? There are times when we give up hope too quickly. Here we learn that true faith will never give up. It can be passed down from generation to generation. God works in his time. True faith will wait.
We also see a demonstration of faith in the life of Moses. It is first illustrated in the example of his parents, who hid him for three months from Pharaoh's soldiers because they believed him to be no ordinary child. They hid their child from Pharaoh, who sought to kill all male children. They risked their lives to save a child for whom they believed God had a special purpose.
This same faith was passed down to Moses. When he grew up, he refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to leave behind all the riches of Egypt to live among his own people. He chose to be mistreated with God's people rather than living in the pleasures of sinful Egypt. He chose to be disgraced in the eyes of this world and valued his relationship with God far more than all the riches and comfort that Egypt could offer (see verse 26).
For forty years Moses lived in the desert caring for sheep. He did not lose faith. He continued to wait on his Lord, believing that the day would come when God would indeed be faithful to his word (verse 27). Faith is patient. Moses persevered because he saw the invisible God (verse 27). That is to say, his confidence and sight was on the Lord God of Israel even when he could not under-stand how God could fulfill his promises. God blessed his perseverance by revealing himself in the burning bush and calling him to return to Egypt to set his brothers and sisters free.
It was by faith that Moses went to Egypt and by faith he approached Pharaoh. He had no way of knowing how God would use him to set his people free but he chose to be obedient. Even when the people were set free from the bondage of Egypt, Moses had to trust God to lead and provide for them as they travelled through the wilderness. How much water would have been required to supply for the drinking, cooking and bathing of over two million people and all their cattle? How much food would it take to feed all these people and animals? How much firewood would be needed to cook their meals every day? The amount of provisions required to feed and provide for this number of people was staggering. What role did faith play in this? There are times when I wonder how God is going to provide to pay my monthly bills. We can clearly see here the faith of Moses who trusted God for the provision for all his people. When God calls he also provides and equips.
This was not the only demonstration of faith in the life of Moses. When the angel of death passed over the land of Egypt, Moses told his people to sprinkle blood on the door posts so the destroying angel would not harm them. He trusted God with the lives of his people. God told him that they would be safe under the blood that was painted on the door. Moses believed God and his people were saved.
When they came to the Red Sea and the Egyptians were closing in on them, Moses heard the word of the Lord and told the people that God would deliver them. He raised his staff in the air and watched the Lord part the waters before him, allowing the people of God to pass over on dry land to the other side. When the Egyptians followed after them, the waters fell on them and they were drowned. All these things required that Moses trust God and be obedient to his voice. What Moses attempted to do was impossible in human understanding. God did the impossible as Moses believed and obeyed by faith.
In verse 30, we read the story of Joshua and the people of Israel as they come to the city of Jericho. This city was a strongly fortified city. God told Joshua that he was to march around the city for seven days. Again, it did not make sense to Joshua to do this. How could marching around a city give them the victory they needed? God does not need us to understand, he just wants us to obey. There is another thing we need to understand here. As the children of Israel walked around that city wall, humanly speaking they risked their lives. They could very easily have been the target of the enemy’s arrows. Soldiers on the wall could have killed them as they walked around that wall. Each step they took was a step of faith. They had to trust that God would protect them as they walked in obedience. There are times when faith puts us directly in harm's way. Sometimes we are called to step into the middle of the battle. As Joshua led the people around that city for seven days, they were being reminded that God was their protector. He would fight the battle. When the seven days were over God brought down the walls of Jericho and gave his people victory. Faith does things God's way. It does not trust human wisdom.
It was not only the great saints that demonstrated this faith in God. Even Rahab, the prostitute showed her faith in God. When the spies went in to look over the land, she recognized them to be from the nation of Israel. She knew in her heart that the Lord their God would give them victory over her people. She helped the spies, risking her life in doing so, because she knew in her heart that the Lord God was going to give them victory. Her life was spared because she helped the spies and believed in the power of the God of Israel (see verse 31).
The list of those who demonstrated true faith in God is a large one. Verse 32 reminds us of men like Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Solomon and the prophets. These men and many others conquered whole nations by faith. They brought justice to God's people by faith. They trusted God's promises and saw the answer to those promises.
In the case of Daniel and his friends, the mouths of lions were shut and the fury of the flaming furnace was tamed. These individuals and others like them escaped death by the sword, not in their own strength but by trusting in the leading and protection of the Lord. They were not special people. They were simple, ordinary people whom God used in their weakness. They became powerful by trusting God and living by faith in what he said.
It was not just men who demonstrated that faith. Women received their children back from the dead. Other individuals were tortured and refused to submit to the demands of their persecutors. They willingly suffered rather than deny the Lord their God. They believed that he would keep them and raise them from death. They were assured of his promises.
Living by faith does not mean that everything will go well for us. Many who live by faith suffer greatly because of that faith. Sometimes they faced the jeers of those who opposed them. Scripture is filled with examples of men and women of faith who were beaten, chained or thrown into prison. Other were stoned, sawed in two or put to death by the sword (verses 36-37).
These men and women of faith were not wealthy. Many of them had nothing. They were destitute and were often mistreated and persecuted for the sake of the Lord. They had no homes to live in and were forced to wander in deserts and mountains or live in caves or holes in the ground to escape the wrath of those seeking their lives. They were hated by the world but considered by God as being unworthy of the world. Many of these individuals never saw the fulfillment of God's promises in their lifetime. They did not give up hope, however. They believed God and trusted him. It is one thing to trust him when things are going well. It is quite another to trust him when everything seems to be going badly in our lives. They trusted even when the promise seemed far away. They trusted enough to die.
God did not give up on these individuals. He had a great plan for them. Through the Lord Jesus, those who trusted him by faith would know the salvation of the Lord. In and through them, the Lord God would accomplish his wonderful purposes.
The faith demonstrated in this chapter is a real challenge to us. These men and women who have gone before us have much to teach us about faith. They were individuals who risked everything and endured everything for the sake of a God they could not see and for promises that were often not fulfilled in their lifetime. These were men and women of true faith. They challenge and inspire us to walk like they did. May God raise up a new generation of faithful men and women.
* What do we learn here about the risks we need to take by faith?
* * Have you ever found yourself not stepping out in faith because you did not understand how God was going to work things out? What does this passage teach us about the need to step out even when we don't understand?
* How long is faith willing to wait?
* Does living by faith mean that we will live without struggle? Explain. What examples do we have of this in this chapter?
* Where do you stand when compared with these men and women of faith? Do you have the same faith they had?
* Ask the Lord to increase your faith in him. Ask him to give you courage to live in absolute obedience to his call on your life.
* Thank the Lord for the inspiring examples of men and women who went before us.
* Ask God to forgive you for the times you have not trusted him. Be specific.
* Ask the Lord to give you the courage and strength to surrender all to him so that nothing will stand in the way of walking in obedience and faith.
Read Hebrews 12:1-12
In the last two meditations, we examined the importance of faith in the Christian walk. We discovered that the Christian life is not always free of problems and difficulties. There will opposition and persecution. In these times, it is our faith that will carry us through. As we begin Hebrews 12, the author reminds his readers of the great cloud of witnesses that surrounded them. The witnesses spoken of here are men and women who have faced opposition before us. We have read of them in chapter 11. They have set an example of faith in trial and tribulation. These men and women of faith are pictured here cheering us on as we face what they had to face. If they could, they would call out words of encouragement and comfort to us reminding us that victory is indeed possible.
Having seen the example of those who have gone before them, the Hebrew readers are challenged to throw off everything that would hinder or entangle them to run the race with perseverance. The picture is of a long distance runner who is loaded down with heavy bags or weights. Imagine running a long distance race with a large, heavy back pack on your back. This extra weight would put you at a disadvantage. It would slow you down and waste your precious energy. You would risk not being able to finish the race because you would be carrying too much weight on your back. Imagine now that not only are you running with this great weight on your back but you choose to run through a thickly wooded area with lots of large stones and heavy vegetation at your feet. The chance of your feet getting entangled in that thick vegetation would be quite high. You would risk tripping over these obstacles or getting entangled in them. This is what the writer to the Hebrews is telling us. If we are going to run the race, we will have to carefully choose our course and rid ourselves of any unnecessary weight. This is what sin will do to us. Sin will weigh us down and entangle our feet so we cannot finish the race.
Notice in verse 1 that this race has been marked out for us. God has a purpose and plan for us and for our lives. My race will take a different route than yours. God will make it clear to us the path we need to take. It is for us to remain on that path, remove any hindrances and persevere to the end. This is what the individuals in chapter 11 did. Despite the difficulties, they refused to give up. They persevered by faith and completed the race God had marked out for them.
It is important that we notice that while the men and women who went before us have set an example for us, we are not to fix our eyes on them. Verse 1 speaks about these men and women of faith as witnesses. They are spectators who have themselves competed in the race but they are now watching from the stands. They applaud us and cheer us on. They challenge us and encourage us by their example but we do not set our eyes on them. Verse 2 tells us that we are to set our eyes on the Lord Jesus. He is the one we are running toward. He is the goal and the prize we are seeking to win. It is all too easy for us to set our eyes on people. Jesus alone is worthy of our full undivided attention. He is to be our goal.
Notice what is said about Jesus in verses 2-3. Jesus was the author and perfecter of their faith. It was the Lord Jesus who gave them their faith and hope. He was the source of their faith in that he died and gave them new life through his work on the cross. He broke down the barrier of sin and put his Holy Spirit in their hearts. Faith sprang from the work of the Lord Jesus in their hearts. Notice also, however, that Jesus was not only the author of their faith but the perfecter as well. That is to say, he would increase the faith he put in their hearts. He would cause that faith to grow and mature in them. He creates faith in us and he also matures and perfects that faith.
In verse 2, the author reminded his readers that there was a great joy set before Jesus when he went to the cross. That joy was the knowledge of victory and a place at the right hand of the Father in heaven. It was the knowledge that, through his death, many would be brought to the Father. He was tested and tried in every way and overcame. He endured the pain and the shame of the cross. He refused to surrender. The result was victory. Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father. The right hand is the place of honour.
In our battle against the flesh and sin, we are to consider the Lord Jesus as our example and inspiration. More than this however, we are to let the knowledge of what he has done for us be our motivation to persevere. What will keep us when things get difficult? We must set our eyes on the Lord and consider him and what he has done. Let the knowledge of what the Lord has done for you inspire you to love him with all you heart and soul and mind. Let his forgiveness and his promises keep you in the difficult times. Let the love he demonstrated on the cross for you cause you to willingly surrender everything for him. Let his promise of eternity inspire you to disregard the things of this world and seek him alone.
The readers of this epistle, though they had suffered much, had not yet had to die for their faith. I like to see a picture of a soldier fighting to hold onto a plot of land. As the enemy pushes in on him, he resists. The task of resisting will not stop until he has shed his blood and lies dead on the ground. Until that time, as a good soldier, he continues his battle. This is the call for each of us.
In verse 5, the author to the Hebrews reminded his readers of the words of Proverbs 3:11, 12:
My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, be-cause the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.
There is an interesting connection here between the suffering we face for the gospel and the discipline of the Lord. These verses challenge us to look at our suffering and trials to be part of the discipline of the Lord in our lives. When we see what we face as being the discipline of the Lord it changes how we see our suffering. When we see persecution and suffering as being from the devil or from the unbelieving world, our first response is to rebuke it and cry out to be set free. The problem with this is that often the Lord trains us through these struggles. If we remove the struggle, we also remove the lessons learned in those struggles. The Lord will use the things Satan throws at us to refine us and purify us. No matter what the enemy throws at us we need to remember that God is greater. Not only will God give us victory but he will use whatever the enemy throws at us for our good and his glory.
We would do well to trust the Lord in the suffering we face. Don’t take this pain and suffering you face lightly. Don’t be too quick to rebuke it or run from it. Listen to what God is telling you through the pain and learn the lessons he wants to teach. Let his discipline chip away the sin and rebellion in your life. Let him use it to draw you closer. Suffering and trials are not all bad. Jesus himself was perfected by the things he suffered:
Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8).
There is no question that the Lord could remove our pain but he has chosen instead to use it. Imagine the frustration of the enemy when he finds out that everything he has been throwing at us has only served to strengthen us and draw us closer to the Lord Jesus.
The Lord disciplines the sons (and daughters) he loves (verse 7). Imagine a father who did not discipline his son but allowed him to do whatever he wanted. It would not take long before that son would be in serious trouble. Children need direction and guidance. They need to be disciplined. Loving parents will discipline their son or daughter so they will follow the right path. This is how God treats us. He wants us to reach our full potential. For that to take place, the Lord needs to discipline and train us. Even if the enemy is behind the pain and suffering we are facing we can be sure that the Lord will use it to accomplish his purposes in us. We have a clear example of this in the story of Job in the Old Testament. Satan asked permission of God to afflict him but God used it to draw Job closer to himself.
The fact that the Lord disciplines us shows us that he considers us to be his children. A parent is not interested in disciplining his neighbour’s children (though sometimes we might feel like doing so!). A parent’s concern is for his or her own children. When you experience the discipline of the Lord remember it is because the Lord sees you as his child. He is taking a personal interest in you. Just as we respect our earthly fathers for disciplining us and giving us a solid foundation on which to build our lives, so we should also respect, honour and even be thankful to God for taking such an interest in us. We can be sure of one thing. As we accept the discipline of the Lord and learn from it, we will grow and mature in our faith and walk with him.
The author reminds his readers in verse 10, that the discipline of the Lord is always for our good. Its intention is to enable us to share in the holiness of God. In other words, through discipline, God will purge from us the evil that keeps us from him. Through discipline, God will remove all those branches in us that do not produce fruit so that we can become even more fruitful.
It is true that discipline is not pleasant. Discipline is often painful. The fact of the matter, however, is that this discipline will produce a greater harvest of righteousness and peace in us. If you want to live the life God intends you to live, you must learn to accept his discipline. If you want to know the peace of God in your heart and life, you must let him cut off those things that keep that peace from you. Discipline is for our good. We will experience a greater spiritual harvest in our lives. Notice, however, that it will only produce this greater harvest if you allow yourself to be trained by it. It is quite possible to face the discipline of the Lord and not be trained by it. We can resist the discipline of God and not learn the lessons he wants to teach us through it.
In light of these truths, the reader is challenged in verse 12, to strengthen his or her feeble arms and weak knees. In other words, they were to take courage. God is in control. He will use whatever the enemy throws at us. We have every reason to rejoice, even in our suffering. We can rejoice because God is treating us as sons and daughters. His intention is not to destroy us but to train us in greater righteousness. Anyone who trains for a race knows that if they are not stretched beyond their present limits, they will never be able to improve. Muscles must be pushed to their limits to be strengthened. If we give up the moment we begin to experience any discomfort, we will never move beyond our present level. We must strengthen those arms by pushing forward. We must not let those knees stop working for us. We need to take control of them and push them even farther. God who has created faith in us will perfect that faith in us by the things we suffer.
* What weighs you down in the Christian life? What sins do you struggle with? What do you need to do about them?
* What is the path God has marked out for you? Have you been following that path?
* What encouragement do you find in the work and person of the Lord Jesus as you face trials in this life?
* How does our attitude toward trials affect how we face them?
* Why does God discipline us as his children?
* Ask God to reveal to you any sin that is weighing you down.
* Thank the Lord that he is able to use whatever the enemy throws at us to draw us closer to him.
* Ask the Lord to change your attitude toward the trials you are presently facing. Ask him to teach you what you need to learn through these trials.
* Thank the Lord that he cares enough for you to be concerned like a father in your personal growth and fruitfulness.
Read Hebrews 12:13-17
We have been examining the difficulties of the Christian walk. The Lord Jesus has not called us to a life of ease. There are times when we will struggle in this world. The author of Hebrews challenged his readers in the first part of this chapter to focus their eyes on the Lord Jesus and to persevere to the end. He told his readers that if they were going to persevere, they would have to remove the weight that hindered them in the race. In this next section, we discover that one of those weights that hinder us has to do with our relationship with others.
In verse 13, readers are challenged to make level paths for their feet so that the lame would not be disabled. What the author appears to be telling his readers is that as they lived out their Christian life they were to be sure not to put obstacles before those who follow after them. Some of those who followed would be weaker brothers and sisters. They are described here as lame. They limp and walk on crutches and are easily tripped. We are to live our lives in such a way that those who watch us will have no reason to fall. The writer to the Hebrews challenges us in verse 13 to live our lives in such a way that those who follow after us will find healing by looking to our example.
It should be noticed that all of this is being said in the context of suffering and pain. We have seen in chapter 11 how men and women suffered for the cause of Christ. They set level paths for their feet so that when we followed after them, we would learn from their example and be encouraged. They gave no reason for anyone to stumble through their lives in the midst of suffering and pain. What kind of example have we been setting for those who follow after us? Have we set an example that others can follow? Have our lives been an obstacle for others? What is quite clear here is we are not alone in our life with God. What we do and how we live will affect those around us in a powerful way. We are called to live in such a way that our lives will be a blessing and encouragement to those around us. If not, we can become a weight that hinders or an obstacle that causes our brother or sister to stumble and fall on the way.
The reader is commanded in verse 14 to make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy. Notice that the writer clearly says "all men." In saying this, he is also referring to those who persecute and revile us. This will not always be easy. Living at peace with some people will require more effort than for others. In our flesh, we may not even want to live at peace with certain individuals. God calls us to die to the flesh and let the love of Christ fill us even for those who are difficult to love.
There is a connection in verse 14 between living in peace with our brother and being holy. We are called to make every effort to resist the flesh and its evil desires and live in harmony with our brothers and sisters. In doing this, we please God and demonstrate true holiness. Holiness is directly related to our relationship with people around us.
Notice also in verse 14 that without this holiness no one will see the Lord. The holiness referred to here is not our own efforts to be good. There are many good people who will never see God. The holiness spoken about here is the work of the Holy Spirit. It comes as a result of the work of Jesus on the cross, forgiving our sin and making us right with the father. It is also the result of the inner work of the Spirit to make us more like the Lord Jesus.
It is important that we note that while we may make every effort to live at peace with our brother and sister, this does not mean that we will never have enemies. Jesus had enemies. The apostles too had their share of foes. It may be that we will never be able to reconcile certain difference with our brother or sister. The challenge of the writer to the Hebrews here is for us to “make every effort.”
In this same light, we are warned in verse 15 not to let any root of bitterness grow up in our lives. The writer tells us three important things about bitterness.
First, when a person holds bitterness against a brother or sister, that bitterness will inevitably “cause trouble.” Bitterness is a bomb waiting to explode. The time will come when it will explode and cause much damage in the body of Christ. If it doesn't explode immediately it will certainly poison us from within; causing much trouble for us and the rest of the body of Christ.
Second, bitterness will “defile many.” You cannot keep bitterness to yourself. It will soon poison those around you as it seeps out through our words, attitudes and actions. This is why we are told not to let a root of bitterness grow. We are to cut it off before it springs up and produces evil fruit. The fruit of bitterness is always evil. It cannot be easily hidden and will inevitably be passed on to others, defiling them.
Thirdly, bitterness will cause us to “miss the grace of God.” When we speak of the grace of God, we speak of his favour and blessing in our lives. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:15 that if we do not forgive others of their sins then God will not forgive us. Scripture challenges husbands to love their wives and treat them with dignity lest their prayers be hindered (1 Peter 3:7). If we let bitterness grow in our lives, it will keep us from experiencing the richness of God’s blessing. It is very important, therefore, that we deal immediately with any root of bitterness lest it cause trouble, defile others and cause us to miss out on the blessing of God in our lives.
In verse 16, the author of the book of Hebrews cautioned his readers also against sexual immorality. All ties to ungodly or lustful thoughts and practices must be quickly squashed. This will be a weight about us that keeps us from finishing the race God has set before us. It will also strip us of his blessing and place an obstacle on the path that will cause those who follow us to stumble.
Verse 16 also reminds the reader of the godless behaviour of Esau. Esau sold his inheritance for a single meal. He despised his blessing and threw it away for a moment of pleasure. After he had thrown his inheritance away even though he sought to get it back with tears, it could never be recovered again. The blessing he threw away for a bowl of soup was gone forever. This is what hap-pens when we let bitterness or sexual immorality gain a foothold in our lives. For a moment of pleasure we can lose our blessing. Will we let these things strip us of all that God has for us?
How important it is that we understand the lesson of this section. We can miss out on the blessing of God in our lives by the way we treat each other in the body of Christ. We can miss his blessing if we harbour bitterness or are involved in immoral practices. Our relationship with God can be hindered by a wrong relationship with someone else. Relationships are vital if we want to grow in our intimacy with God. Running the race God has called us to run means seeking to live in peace with those around us.
* What kind of example have you been for those around you? Are there things in your life that could cause a stumbling block for a brother or sister in the Lord? What are they? What do you need to do about it?
* Is it possible to live at peace with all men? Do you have people that you find hard to love?
* How does a bad relationship with those around us affect our relationship with God?
* How does bitterness affect the body of Christ? Have you seen any examples of this in your church?
* How is Esau's loss of blessing a challenge to us?
* Ask God to forgive you for the times you have not been the example you should have been for your brothers and sisters. Ask him to make you a better example.
* Are there people you have trouble loving? Ask the Lord to give you a greater love for them.
* Ask God to strip all bitterness from your life. Ask him to give you grace to forgive and minister to those who have offended you or who are difficult to love.
* Ask the Lord to keep you pure in heart and thought so that nothing will hinder the fullness of your blessing in him.
Read Hebrews 12:18-29
In the Old Testament, we read how God revealed himself to his people on Mount Sinai. The presence of God was so awesome and powerful that the mountain was filled with fire, cloud and storm. Those who dared to approach the mountain were struck dead.
When the Lord descended on Mount Sinai, his presence was announced by angelic trumpet blasts. When he spoke, those who heard his voice begged him to stop speaking (verse 19). The power of his words was too much for humans to bear. Just the sound of his voice caused men and women to fear for their lives. When Moses, was given just a small glimpse of the glory of God on Mount Sinai, his response was to cry out: "I am trembling with fear” (verse 21).
What an awesome and terrifying God we serve. His glory and majesty have not diminished. He is the same God he was in the days when Moses trembled in his presence. His power is beyond anything we could ever imagine. His majesty and holy presence is terrifying.
Moses received the Law of God on Mount Sinai. The law was part of the old covenant God made with his people. We have seen that under that old covenant there was a separation between God and man. A curtain separated the Holy of Holies where God’s presence dwelt from the rest of the temple. Numerous sacrifices were made each day to appease the wrath of God, but the separation remained.
The writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers, however, that as believers today, we no longer come to Mount Sinai, which represents the old covenant and the Law of Moses. Instead, we approach another mountain. That mountain is Mount Zion. God now reveals himself from Mount Zion. Verse 22 makes it quite clear that Mount Zion represents the heavenly city where God lives. It represents a new covenant that Jesus established and sealed by his death on the cross.
Notice the difference between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. While no one could approach Mount Sinai without fear of death, Mount Zion is filled with thousands of angels in joyful assembly (verse 22). Verse 23 tells us that our names are written in heaven of which Mount Zion is an earthly symbol. The fact that our names are written there is an indication that there is a place for us in this city with God. We will live in the presence of God who is the judge of all humanity. There we will meet those righteous men and women who have gone before us. Unlike Mount Sinai, the door to Mount Zion is open to all who will come.
Note in verse 23 that the spirits of those who approach Mount Zion have been made perfect. Verse 24 tells us that this happens through the mediator Jesus. His blood was shed and sprinkled on us to cleanse us from all our sins and make us pure and holy before the Father. Christ’s blood speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. In other words, the sacrifice of Christ and his shed blood was a greater sacrifice. Abel sacrificed a lamb and brought it to the Lord. The Lord accepted that sacrifice but from that point on many more sacrifices would have to be made. None of those sacrifices ever reconciled man to God. The sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, however, changed everything. His sacrifice ended all sacrifice. It pleased God completely and covered the sins of all who would come to him. By that blood sacrifice, the Lord Jesus became the mediator between God and a sinful human race. He paid the price for our sin and settled our account with God. He then established a new covenant agreement between God and humanity bringing reconciliation between the two parties.
Some commentators believe that the writer to the He-brews is comparing the death of Abel to the death of the Lord Jesus in verse 24. Abel’s death was the first murder recorded in history. He was killed by his jealous brother Cain. There are some significant differences between the death of Abel and the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross. The blood of Abel demanded justice. His blood cried out to God for vengeance. It brought the wrath of God down from heaven. The blood of the Lord Jesus brings harmony, forgiveness and pardon. Christ's death restored our relationship with God.
Mount Sinai was a place of fear and terror. It shows us that we were sinners separated from a holy God. Mount Zion is a place of joy and celebration. The power of sin has been broken on Mount Zion. God and his children have joined hands through the work of the Lord Jesus who settled our account.
I should mention here that while Mount Zion is a place of joy and celebration, it is also a place of terror as well. Like Mount Sinai, Mount Zion also judges and condemns. Those who refuse the pardon offered by Christ will experience the terror of Mount Zion. In verse 25, the reader is reminded of what happened to those who refused the Lord under the old covenant. They were cut off from the people of God. Some were killed without mercy. If those who rejected Mount Sinai and the way of the law were killed without mercy, how much more serious is it to refuse the Lord Jesus who speaks to us from heavenly Mount Zion?
In the days of Moses, the voice of God shook the earth. The Lord promised that a day was coming when his voice would again shake the earth and the heavens (verse 26). The author told his readers that the earth would experience an even greater shaking. In verse 27, the reader is told that when God shakes the earth again it will be completely destroyed. When the earth is shaken this time only that which belongs to the eternal kingdom of God will remain (verse 28).
Those who have accepted the work of the Lord Jesus will be part of a kingdom that cannot be shaken. They will live with the Lord in that kingdom forever. God will be their God and they will live with him forever.
In light of this wonderful truth, we need to be thankful. Our hearts need to be lifted up in praise to God for what he has done. The barrier between God and his children has been broken down. There is no more sacrifice required. Those who come to Mount Zion, where the Lord Jesus was crucified, receive full pardon and forgiveness. Those who refuse him will face the consuming fire of his wrath (verse 29). If refusing him who descended on Mount Sinai meant certain death so it will be for those who refuse him who comes to Mount Zion.
Sinai represents the old covenant and the separation that existed between God and the human race under the Law of Moses. Mount Zion represents a new covenant made through the shedding of the blood of Christ on the cross of Calvary. It represents reconciliation between God and all who come to his Son. God no longer calls out to us from Mount Sinai. Today he reveals himself from Mount Zion. If we want to approach God, we must come by way of Mount Zion and the new covenant. We must come to Jesus who was the mediator of that new covenant.
* What does Mount Sinai represent? What was the problem with Mount Sinai?
* What does Mount Zion represent? How is it different from Mount Sinai?
* How is the sacrifice of Christ greater than Abel's sacrifice? What did the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus accomplish?
* What will happen when the Lord descends to shake the earth again? Are you ready for this occurrence?
* What is a mediator? How has Jesus become a mediator for us?
* Thank the Lord that he has set you free from the Law that could never bring reconciliation between God and man.
* Thank the Lord for his death that paid the penalty for your sin.
* Thank the Lord that he has given you the assurance of salvation. If you do not have this assurance, ask him to give it to you.
* Ask the Lord to keep you from trying to merit your salvation by the law. Thank him that the work of the Lord Jesus alone is sufficient for our salvation.
* Thank the Lord that the door to Mount Zion is open for all who will come. Thank him for the fellowship and forgiveness Mount Zion represents.
Read Hebrews 13:1-7
In this final chapter of the book of Hebrews the author brings a series of challenges to his readers. There are several things he wants them to remember in their walk with the Lord Jesus.
Keep on Loving Each Other (verse 1)
The first challenge is to keep on loving each other. The fact that he tells them to keep on doing this is an indication that they have already been doing it. They were to excel even more in their love for each other. If there is one thing certain in the Christian walk, it is the fact that our love for each other will often be tried. Satan knows the power of love.
The Lord Jesus told us that men and women will know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). It is not without reason that the enemy attacks believers in the area of their relationship with each other. He knows the damage broken relationship can have. There will be times when we will have to humble ourselves and seek the forgiveness from our brother or sister. At other times we will have to forgive them for their offenses. In this verse, we are challenged to love each other. This will mean loving when we have been deeply hurt. It will mean sacrificing ourselves for each other. This will not always be natural, but it is something we must always strive toward, especially as the day of the Lord’s return draws nearer.
Entertain Strangers (verse 2)
In verse 2, the writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers that love must not be restricted to those they knew. They were also to entertain strangers. Notice how saints in the past have entertained angels in this way. We have an example of this in the life of Abraham when he offered hospitality to visitors who came to him to announce that his wife would give birth to a son (Genesis 18).
It is relatively easy to entertain those we know. We are challenged, however, to reach out in compassion to those we do not know. The Lord Jesus ministered to all kinds of people who were forgotten by the community. He was called a friend of sinners because he did not fear to minister to them in their need. Who are the forsaken and forgotten people in your community? What role would God have you to play in reaching out to them?
Remember the Prisoners (verse 3)
One of the forgotten people groups of the day in which the epistle to the Hebrews was written were prisoners. It is true that they were in prison for a reason. This, however, is not the point. The writer to the Hebrews told his readers that they were not to forget the prisoner. Believers were challenged to remember prisoners as if they were fellow prisoners with them. In other words, they were to be sympathetic to their needs and the pain they were experiencing.
There is mention here in verse 3 of another group. We read of those who have been mistreated. We are not told what the reason for their mistreatment was. This really doesn't matter. Perhaps they were mistreated because of prejudice in the society. Maybe it was because of their lifestyle. It would be so easy to judge these individuals. We are told to put ourselves in their place. How would we like to be treated if we were in their situation?
As a church body, we do not have to agree with every-thing that someone does in order to minister to them. I remember hearing a story of a preacher who came to a town and challenged the people to evangelize their community. He mentioned to them how in their town there was a strip club filled with people in need of the Lord. An older lady in the community was convicted by the Holy Spirit about this. One day, she went out and bought some roses and took them to the club. She walked up to the front where a young lady was dancing before the men and laying the flowers down in front of her whispered: "Dear, you don't have to do this. If ever you want to speak to me, I'll be there for you."
I was struck by the power of that loving action. Many times, all the unbelieving world receives from the church is criticism and condemnation. We are challenged to reach out in love. Love will reach people that condemnation will never reach. Jesus ministered to those whom the religious people of his day condemned. He touched people others refused to touch. We are challenged to follow his example.
Honour Marriage (verse 4)
In verse 4, the author challenges his readers to honour marriage. There are times when the people closest to us are ignored. We are to take special care not to neglect our marriages. We must honour our husbands and wives. This means being faithful to them. It means never allowing anyone or anything to come between us as partners. The marriage bed is to be kept pure from adultery. God will judge the adulterer and those who are sexually immoral. Satan has done much damage to families. He knows that by breaking up families he is striking at the very heart of a community. Believers need to be especially careful to guard their marriages so that they are an example to those around.
Keep Free from Love of Money (verse 5)
Notice in verse 5 how the Hebrews were to keep them-selves free from the love of money. Money is not evil in itself. It is the love of money that we need to break in our lives. When someone loves money, it becomes their focus in life. They are not content with the things they have. Their life begins to revolve around how much they make and what that money can do for them. Those who love money find their security in it, rather than finding their security in God.
In verse 6, the writer reminded his readers that they could say with confidence that the Lord was their helper. They will be well provided for. Their security should not be found in the money they were making, nor in anything else, but in the Lord himself.
Remember Your Leaders (verse 7)
The final challenge of these first seven verses is to remember our leaders. The particular focus here is spiritual leaders. These individuals speak the word of God. The reader is to consider the lives of these godly leaders and follow their faith.
The challenge is as much for Christian leaders to set an example as it is for us to follow their faithful example. Admittedly, there have been many unfaithful leaders in our society and church. We are certainly not to follow their example. We are to be a people, however, who are willing to learn from our leaders. This means that we need to be open to change and willing to grow. It also means that we need to be humble enough to receive correction from them.
To remember our spiritual leaders means that we must be quick to pray, support and provide for their needs. Remember that many of these spiritual leaders were dependent on the offerings and gifts of the people of God. The challenge is for believers to provide for the needs of their spiritual leaders. It is not without reason that we are first challenged not to love money and immediately after this commanded to remember our spiritual leaders. God’s people were to stand behind their leaders with their money. They were to provide for them so that the kingdom of God could be advanced.
* What challenges have you faced as you seek to love your brother or sister in the Lord?
* Who are the needy people and outcasts in your society? What is the challenge of this passage?
* Love can reach people in ways that criticism and judgment cannot. Do you agree with this statement? Explain.
* What is your relationship with your marriage partner like? Have you been guilty of ignoring him or her?
* How do you find the balance between loving money and enjoying the good things that God has given us?
* Are your spiritual leaders well provided for? What is your responsibility toward them, according to this passage?
* Ask the Lord to give you love for someone you find hard to love.
* Ask God to show you if there is someone in the community that he would have you befriend.
* Offer your money to the Lord. Ask him to show you how you need to use it for the sake of his kingdom.
* Ask the Lord to forgive you for any criticism of your leaders. Take a moment to pray for them, asking God to bless and encourage them in their ministry for him.
Read Hebrews 13:8-15
One of the key themes in the book of Hebrews has to do with comparing the Old Testament covenant and all its sacrifices and laws to the New Testament covenant under Jesus. As part of his closing remarks, the writer to the Hebrews warned his readers about getting side-tracked by those who would try to bring them back under the law of the old covenant.
In verse 8, we are reminded that the Lord Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. What a wonderful truth we find in this statement. The Lord Jesus will never change. We know him as the Son of God, full of grace and truth. We know his power over evil by his death and victory on the cross. We have experienced the wonder of his salvation in our lives. The promises of his Word have been our encouragement and support. These things will never change. He is the same today as he was when he physically walked on this earth. We can expect great things from him. The promises of Jesus in his Word are still valid today. Jesus will never change nor will his Word.
It is with this teaching in mind that the writer to the Hebrews challenged his readers not to be carried away by strange teachings. From the context of verse 9, we understand that these strange teachings had something to do with ceremonial foods and the Law of Moses. The writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers that the law and ceremonial foods no longer had any value. Those who trusted in the grace of God for salvation through the work of Christ were to make a clear break from the Old Testament Law. Any dependence on the law for salvation or acceptance with God would only prove that they really did not fully understand that God’s grace in Christ was sufficient.
There may have been individuals who were trying to push the Laws of Moses at that time. They were emphasizing the need to be obedient to the law for salvation and approval before God. Readers are reminded, however, that they were no longer under the law but under grace. They were to be strengthened in grace and not by means of the law.
What does it mean to be strengthened by grace? The context would indicate that the strengthening was for the purpose of a closer walk with God. There are those who try to grow closer to God by means of the law. They feel that if they follow the Ten Commandments and do everything the way God intends then they will get closer to God. They feel that getting stronger in their spiritual walk has to do with how much they obey God and his requirements. If they were training young believers, they would emphasize the requirements of God. They would focus on how God wants them to live and the obligations they have to keep his commandments.
One of the problems with this as the focus of discipleship is that the Old Testament is the story of one failure after another to do just that. While we are all called to be obedient, we need to realize that our obedience will not bring us acceptance from God. Our acceptance before God has to do with the Lord Jesus and his work on the cross for our salvation and forgiveness. The spiritual life is not about rules and regulations and trying to live a perfect life. That was the old way of the law but it is not the way of grace.
The way of grace begins with the work of the Lord Jesus as our High Priest and sacrificial lamb. Grace teaches us that not one of us can merit God’s favour by doing the best we can. Even our best falls short of what God requires. Grace teaches that our acceptance is through the work of Christ. We are accepted not by our efforts to please God but by Christ’s effort on our behalf. We don’t serve to be accepted, we serve out of love for Christ who assured our acceptance. To grow in grace is to grow in our understanding of what Christ has done for us.
The altar we approach is an altar that no one in the Old Testament had a right to approach. Even those who ministered under the old covenant did not have a right to eat the food they offered on the altar (see verse 10). Only grace can give us access to God and his throne.
Under the law of the Old Testament, the high priest would carry the blood of a sacrificed animal into the Most Holy Place once a year as a sin offering. This was the only time he was allowed to enter the presence of God. This could only be done after he had made a sacrifice for his own sins and the sins of the people. Each year he would repeat this sacrifice.
After the sacrifice was offered in the temple, the bodies of the sacrificed animals were taken outside of the city where they were discarded and burned. This is what happened to the Lord Jesus (verse 12). He was taken outside the city to be crucified and buried. He was a sacrifice for our sins just like the sacrifices made by the priests of the old covenant. The difference between these sacrifices, however, was that the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus would make his people holy. To be holy is to be reconciled with God. We do not put our confidence in the unending sacrifice of bulls and goats. Our trust and confidence is in the Lord Jesus alone. His sacrifice makes us holy. Let me emphasize something here. If the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus makes us holy and acceptable before God then there is nothing more to be done. If you believe this you will put all your confidence in that one sacrifice. If you doubt his sacrifice is sufficient then you will seek to merit your salvation and God’s favour by your personal efforts.
The truth about their complete acceptance in Christ was the truth the writer to the Hebrews wanted his readers to understand. They were not to stray from this truth. This truth would never change because the Lord Jesus would never change. His work was final and accomplished everything God required. The eating of ceremonial food or observing ceremonial laws were of no more value. Nothing more could be done for their salvation and acceptance before God.
Jesus willingly bore our sin and was taken like a sacrificial lamb outside the city of Jerusalem to be crucified. He was not ashamed to bear this for us. We should not be ashamed to call him Lord, nor to be cast out, mocked and ridiculed for the sake of his name.
Those who know the favour and grace of God place little value on the things of this world. These things seem so insignificant compared to knowing the Lord Jesus and the blessings received through him. Their eyes are on the city to come (verse 14). There in that city they will live forever with their Lord and Saviour. Their eyes are fixed on Jesus.
The sacrifices of bulls and goats came to an end when the Lord Jesus died on the cross for us. His sacrifice was the last blood sacrifice that would ever have to be made for sin. The sacrifices we make now are sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. They are sacrifices of worship and adoration from our lips. This is the sacrifice God seeks now. He seeks hearts and lips that will confess him as Saviour and Lord and fall down in praise of his holy name.
* We are reminded in this passage that the Lord Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. What encouragement do you receive from this? What is the practical application of this truth to your life today?
* What is the difference between trying to draw close to the Lord by means of the law and being strengthened by grace?
* What did the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus accomplish that the sacrifices of the Old Testament could not accomplish?
* What is the difference between the sacrifices of the Old Testament and the sacrifice of praise mentioned in this chapter?
* Have you ever found yourself trying to merit the favour of the Lord? What does this chapter tell us about our acceptance in the Lord?
* Thank the Lord that we can place full confidence in him and his Word because he never changes.
* Thank him that through his work we are completely accepted.
* Ask the Lord to fill your heart with an even greater sense of praise and thanksgiving for what he has done for you and his acceptance of you.
* What is your motivation for serving the Lord to-day? Are you able to serve from an attitude of complete acceptance? How does this change how you serve the Lord?
Read Hebrews 13:16-22
As the author of the book of Hebrews concludes his book he has a variety of small issues he wants to address. We will examine these individually in this final meditation.
Don't Forget to do Good (verse 16)
The first of these final exhortations is found in verse 16. The reader is challenged not to forget to do good and to share with others. Have you ever wondered why some people have more than others? The Lord has determined to give spiritual gifts to the body of Christ. No one has all the spiritual gifts. The apostle Paul reminded his readers that this was because God had designed the body so that each member needed the other (see Romans 12:4-6). If we are to be that entire God wants us to be, we will need to share with others and consider their needs as well as our own. The Christian life was never intended to be lived in isolation. My gifts and resources are essential if the body of Christ is to become everything it needs to be. God has designed his church in such a way that we need each other and each others' gifts to reach our full potential. It is for this reason that the writer to the Hebrews tells his readers not to forget to do good and to share with each other.
Notice in verse 16 that ministering to each other will require sacrifice. We are reminded, however, that God is pleased with these sacrifices. In other words, when I surrender what I have for others God notices this and is pleased with my sacrifice. When I sacrifice what I have for the good of others I am doing this for the Lord. It is all too easy to become absorbed in ourselves and forget that God has called us to live in a body. We need to learn to think of others. Only then can the church become all that God intended it to become.
Obey Your Leaders (verse 17)
The second challenge to the Hebrew believers was to obey their leaders. While we are not clearly told who these leaders were, it is safe to say that they were both spiritual and political leaders. The Scripture tells us clearly that both spiritual and political leadership have been ordained by God (Romans 13:1). Christians are to be submissive to the authority God has put over them. Our leaders have been ordained by God to watch over us. They will have to give an account to God for their actions. This is true of those who are believers as well as those who have never professed faith in the Lord Jesus. All will have to give an account before the Lord God.
Believers were to obey their leaders so that their work would be a joy and not a burden. Are we good citizens? Can your boss trust you? Do you make the task of leadership easy for those who are over you? Are you respected by those who are in leadership in your society because of your honesty and compassion? Christians are to be respectful of leaders.
Pray for us (verse 18)
The author gives his readers several prayer requests. He asked first that the reader pray that the Lord would give them a clear conscience and desire to live honourably in every way. The desire of the author was to live the life God had called him to live and to do so in a way that would honour him. This is not always easy. There are times of tremendous struggle and temptation in ministry. The writer to the Hebrews wanted to honour God in whatever situation God placed him. He needed prayer for this. We cannot underestimate the significance of this request. How many times has the work of the kingdom been hindered because those who were seeking to advance it were not honourable in how they ministered and lived? The work of the kingdom will only suffer if our lives do not honour the Lord Jesus.
The other request in verse 19 was that the author and his co-workers be given the opportunity to visit the Hebrews. This shows us the heart of the writer. He loved these believers and wanted to see them personally. The Lord had not yet opened a door of opportunity for him to see them but he was asking that they pray that God would do this for their mutual encouragement.
Blessings (verse 20)
The readers are blessed in verse 20 and 21. It was the author's sincere desire and prayer that God would equip his people to do every good work. He reminded them that God was a God of peace. It was his desire to make peace between himself and sinful man. To do this, he sent his Son to shed his blood and die. The death of the Lord Jesus established a new relationship between God and his people. It is this wonderful God of grace and peace who would equip them to do his work. The God who called them would also strengthen them to accomplish what he had called them to do.
The author’s prayer was not only that God would equip his people in ministry but also that God would accomplish his purposes in them. This work in us is the work of the Holy Spirit to make us more like the Lord Jesus. It is God’s desire not only to make us fruitful but to make us a people of character and holiness.
In verse 22, the writer to the Hebrews asked the reader to bear with his words of exhortation. In other words, he asked them to be patient with him and with what he had been telling them. He realized that some of what he was telling them would be hard to understand and difficult to accept. They would likely have many questions but he was limited in how much he could write at the present time (see verse 22). Perhaps this is why he asked them to pray that he would be able to see them soon. It may be that he wanted to follow up on this letter and answer any objections or questions they may have had.
In verse 23, the author told his readers that Timothy had been released. Likely Timothy had been in prison for his faith. It was the desire of the author to come with Timothy to see them. The letter concludes with greetings to the spiritual leaders. The believers in Italy (possibly from where the letter was written) sent their greetings to these believers. As he concludes the author wished them the fullness of God's grace in their lives.
* What does this concluding section of the book of Hebrews tell us about the importance of the body of Christ and how we need to use our resources for the good of that body?
* What gifts has the Lord given you? How have you been using this for the good of the body? What more could you do?
* What do we learn here about the importance of character in ministry? Can we truly minister if we are not living the life God calls us to live?
* Ask God to show you how you can use your gifts and resources for the expansion of his kingdom.
* Take a moment to pray for your spiritual and political leaders. Ask God to help you to treat them with respect and honour. Ask him to forgive you for any time you did not show respect to someone God had placed in authority over you.
* Ask the Lord to search you to see if there is any-thing in your personal life that hinders your service for him.
Light To My Path Book Distribution (LTMP) is a book writing and distribution ministry reaching out to needy Christian workers in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Many Christian workers in developing countries do not have the resources necessary to obtain Bible training or purchase Bible study materials for their ministries and personal encouragement. F. Wayne Mac Leod is a member of Action International Ministries and has been writing these books with a goal to distribute them freely or at cost price to needy pastors and Christian workers around the world.
To date thousands of books are being used in preaching, teaching, evangelism and encouragement of local believers in over fifty countries. Books are now been translated into a variety of languages. The goal is to make them available to as many believers as possible.
The ministry of LTMP is a faith based ministry and we trust the Lord for the resources necessary to distribute the books for the encouragement and strengthening of believers around the world. Would you pray that the Lord would open doors for the translation and further distribution of these books?