Often you can tell how much someone loves you by his or her attitude toward those who are close to you. If your best friend despises your children, you would rightly question his friendship. If someone says they love you but can't stand your spouse, their love for you might be suspect. If we truly love God, we'll love those things that God loves. We'll love God's children. We'll love the bride of Christ. That is to say, if we love God we will love His church. Hebrews 13 has described love for one another and love for God. Next, the writer, in concluding this outstanding book of the New Testament, describes how we're to respond to leaders and workers within the church. We must love Christ's church if we claim to love Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is supreme-He's better than anything. Therefore, if we accept the supremacy of Jesus Christ in our lives we must also love the church over which Jesus is Shepherd and Lord. So, in practical terms, what does it mean to love the church of Jesus Christ? The writer presents four examples of how we can love God's people, the church.
God has appointed leaders in the church, specifically pastors and deacons. Leaders carry a unique responsibility for the care of the flock. Therefore, Christians should acknowledge the special call of God in the lives of church leaders and assist their leaders in doing God's work by supporting and encouraging them.
The writer states bluntly, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." Too often churches struggle with issues of power, control, and leadership. But such struggles are contrary to God's will. We need to recognize that God appoints leaders, and we're to obey these God-appointed leaders in the church. We're to submit to them. This doesn't mean that we can't question their methods or even challenge their teaching if it's contrary to the Word of God. But we must not treat church leaders lightly, or respond to them with contempt. Paul said that church leaders are to be treated with "double honor" and that they should not be subjected to any accusation "unless it is brought by two or three witnesses" (1 Timothy 5:17-20). Hebrews 13:17 doesn't, of course, give pastors the right to treat people any way they want. This verse isn't a blank check for an overbearing style of leadership. It simply reminds us that leaders deserve respect based on their God-appointed office in the church. But leaders must also be worthy of respect, as Hebrews 13:17 goes on to affirm.
Church leaders carry a heavy responsibility. The writer of Hebrews says that leaders are to "keep watch" over the "souls" of God's people. Can there be a greater responsibility on earth? The idea of keeping watch comes from a Greek term that means to chase away sleep. Many church leaders have experienced sleepless nights as they've agonized over the spiritual condition of the church and individual Christians within the church. Watching over the souls of men and women, protecting the church from harm, is a constant concern to godly leaders. In addition, church leaders must one day "give an account" to God regarding the discharge of their responsibilities. They will stand before God and render an explanation of their actions and attitudes as spiritual leaders! What an awesome responsibility it is to be a leader in Christ's church. But if a church leader takes this responsibility seriously, the flock will find it much easier to obey and submit to such a leader.
Because church leaders carry such heavy spiritual responsibilities, God's people should make every effort to see to it that their leaders can serve with joy. Leading God's people can be a joy or a burden. The determining factor is, so often, the responsiveness of the church to its leaders. Leaders take joy in guiding Christians who are eager to grow in their faith, eager to serve others, and eager to show love to one another and to the lost. But leadership can also be a burden, literally a cause of sighing or groaning. When Christians argue, when they resist spiritual challenges, or when they act without love toward one another or the lost, godly church leaders groan inside. Ministry is a burden instead of a joy. Such a situation is of benefit to no one. Instead, church leaders must take their responsibility for shepherding souls seriously, and all church members should go out of their way to make their leaders' ministry joyful.
In addition to honoring the church's leaders, a second way in which we show our love for God's church is by praying for its workers. Prayer is essential to the ministry of any church, and those workers who serve within the body of believers need our prayers.
As this book comes to a close, the writer begins to express several personal thoughts. "Pray for us," the writer says. Then the writer states, "We are sure that we have a clear conscience." It's so easy to let our motives for ministry become distorted. It's too easy for our prayers to become misdirected. We begin to pray for personal comforts instead of spiritual challenges. We need to have clear consciences when we pray and when we serve within the church. The writer reflectively and humbly claimed to have a clear conscience. The writer also expressed the desire "to live honorably in every way." This is the focus of this prayer request. We should pray that those who serve the Lord in any capacity will do so in such a way that Jesus Christ is honored and glorified.
The writer now speaks in the first person, saying, "I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon." Apparently the writer had been restricted from being with those who were the original recipients of this letter. Imprisonment or other dire circumstances may have prevented the writer from being with them. So the writer requests prayer for freedom and ministry opportunity. We should pray for Christian workers to gain ministry opportunities-open doors to share the good news of Jesus Christ and freedom to carry out their service for the Lord. Prayer does make a difference in the work of God!
In a majestic expression of worship, the writer now turns our attention back to the supremacy of Jesus Christ. If we love God's church, we'll glorify its Shepherd. Jesus is our Great Shepherd.
Having frequently referred to the exaltation of Jesus Christ, this is the only place in the book of Hebrews that the writer highlights Jesus' resurrection. This benediction is a prayer requesting that God would equip His people for their spiritual endeavors. But first the writer must describe this God. God is a God of peace. He wants us to be at peace with Him and with one another. In order to restore us to spiritual peace with Him, God has made an eternal covenant. In eternity past, before God even created this world, He determined to rescue us from our sins. He would do so through the sacrificial death of His Son. That eternal covenant was a covenant of blood. But that covenant didn't simply include the death of Jesus Christ. It included His resurrection as well. God "brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep." Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins. He rose to give us eternal life. He is our Great Shepherd, and as His sheep we're to follow Him wherever He leads us.
Having described God, the writer now completes the thought of this prayer of benediction, asking God to equip His people "with everything good for doing his will." Having saved us through the blood of His Son, it only makes sense that God would want to equip us to live our lives in obedience to Christ's commands. We need God's work in our lives to save us, and we need His work to sanctify us. As God's people, we're to be committed to doing God's will. But in order to do God's will, God must work in us and form us to be pleasing in His sight. This sanctifying work of God, like the saving work of God, is performed through Jesus Christ.
Because God has accomplished His loving and redeeming work through His Son, He deserves endless glory and praise. The writer powerfully concludes this benediction with this exhortation, "To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." God deserves our unending praise for His work in our lives. Jesus deserves our eternal devotion for His work of redemption and for His miraculous resurrection. If we love God's church, we'll glorify God and His Son, our Great Shepherd and Savior.
The writer concludes this epistle with an exhortation for the readers to embrace its truth, which as we know is divine truth with all the authority of inspired Scripture.
The writer addresses the readers as "brothers," emphasizing the spiritual relationship that they enjoyed in Christ. Then the writer says, "I exhort you to bear with my word of exhortation," most likely referring to the epistle in its entirety. Throughout the epistle the writer exhorted the readers to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and not to revert to Judaism. To "endure" this exhortation implies to listen to and apply its teachings eagerly. After all, this epistle is "only a short letter" according to the writer. Actually, Hebrews is one of the longer New Testament epistles, but it's only too brief when we consider the wealth of teaching it contains. In comparison to the teachings that the writer may have wanted to communicate, this epistle is truly brief. Nevertheless, it contains plenty of truth for us to absorb and apply. God has given us these truths to help us grow in our faith and spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ.
God has revealed spiritual truth to us in His inspired Word. He has also blessed the church through the ages with committed teachers who have spread His truth around the world. The writer concludes with a personal reference to Timothy and his recent release from prison, a situation that is not recorded anywhere else in the New Testament. The writer anticipated Timothy's arrival and their joint journey to visit the readers in person. Obviously the writer was a close friend of Timothy. The writer then extends greetings to the church's leaders and all the church members, as well as passing along greetings from "those from Italy." This may mean that the writer was living in Italy, presumably Rome, or that a contingent of Italian believers was preset where the writer was then living. These cryptic references to Timothy and to a group of Italian believers whet the appetites of our minds to want more information about the writer and the circumstances at the time. Possibly the intensity of persecution necessitated these cautious references. We must be content with our limited knowledge and avoid unnecessary speculations. But we can be encouraged to know that in the early church God had provided numerous Christian workers and teachers who were advancing the cause of the gospel. We are also challenged in our own hearts when we realize that we fall into that line of men and women of God down through the ages who have shouldered the responsibility of proclaiming God's truth. In order to carry out our calling effectively we will certainly need God's grace. And so this epistle closes with that assurance that God will bless us. "Grace be with you all."
Because we love God, we must love His church as well. We show our love for God's church by honoring its leaders, praying for its workers, glorifying its Shepherd, and embracing its truth. The greatest truth that we can glean from the book of Hebrews is that our Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, is better than anything. He's a better prophet and a better priest. He offered a better sacrifice, and He calls us to live a better life. Jesus Christ is supreme!