Remembering the school days, we’d all go into class refreshed and even joyful because the little break is still keeping our spirits up. But as the class starts and the teachers tarts talking, the enthusiasm quickly gets replaced with boredom that leads to dozing off. Christian Life, like school, for most of us ends up being a dozed-off anticipation for the bell to ring so we can all go home and relax.
In this chapter, the bells are ringing to mark the end of the class, we all get awakened and ready to get up and go. And in that last minute of silence, as the teacher tries to sum up the lecture, we too get to see a similar wrap-up of this pretty long and deep epistle.
In the previous 12 chapters we saw that the essence of Christian living isn’t rituals but practical faith. This faith in Christ isn’t something that gets us in a passive mode, seeking peace under a palm tree, with closed eyes and going into a deep meditation. No, the peace that transcends understanding, the peace that God gives, we experience this peace by active living, by being engaged in the environment where God has placed us. In all the hard work, disappointments, betrayals and what not, the key is to just focus on the next right step, and trust God with the results.
Now, in Chapter 13 we get a quick summary of some key ideas that we shouldn’t forget as we go on in life.
1-6 Strangers, Inmates, Marriage and Money: Let’s rethink them a bit
The text starts with an interesting allusion to the Old Testament, the event with Abraham and Sarah, when they are met by the holy three men, considered a theophany, and how Abraham’s welcoming attitude to the strangers changed his life forever. The quick conclusion for us today is that we are called to such openness to new people as we never really know how God may work through them. Maybe it will be a friendly reminder like Abraham got, or it may be a life-saving situation as with the Rahab case.
The other, more problematic issue is “remember those in prisons.” Is this to remember those we already know, perhaps some who are imprisoned because of their faith? V. 23 mentions that Timothy has been released, so chances are Timothy is not the only prisoner of faith here. In light of Heb 10: 33-34, it may very well be that some people in the congregation are still imprisoned, and the call here is to remind those who are like Timothy released, that there are still brothers and sisters in prison because of their faith. If this is so, then the call of Hebrews is to respect, help, love, treasure ALL relationships with fellow believers, even those that are not around us but suffering because of their faith. We’re called to not be afraid to go back to the prison where we once were too inmates, for the sake of those still imprisoned.
Is this not a general call to prison ministry where criminals are locked up? I don’t know. But reading the verses contextually I’d rather say that this is a reminder that part of the local community is still under tribulation and the free ones are called to take care of those under persecution. Looking at these verses from such a perspective can mean that this text speaks more about alleviating the suffering of other Christians than about general social responsibility.
The issue of marriage here is both a matter of respect by everybody, and a matter of fidelity for the married people. There are tons of people out there trying to redefine marriage and force us to accept their definition. But in reality, marriage is a divine institution, and only He who instituted it has the right to define it. This is one of those truths that aren’t established by debate. It’s a given. Like Thou Shalt Not Murder. You either stick to it, or don’t.
The issue of money is an interesting situation. The allusion to the Old Testament verses of “I will never leave you nor forsake you” puts the issue of money in a strange light.
This isn’t a comment on wealth acquisition but on reliance on God in any situation. The fear of being helpless, being in a dead-end position…the fear of literally dying… that’s at stake. When it comes to money, there’s always a dose of fear. The issue is that we tend to put direct link between money and security.
This isn’t to say that money does not offer any security. It’s about a healthy understanding of what money is. Money is a tool for life and of course we need it. We need money just as we need air, because everything else we need comes at a price. We find security in owning money, but having money does not make God redundant. When we talk about money, we must keep things into perspective. Money is not a substitute for God just as Faith is no substitute for hard work.
In this first section, this first part of the class things are quite interesting and dynamic. We’ve learned that:
- Our openness to strangers can lead to interesting developments.
- In our care for rejected/ridiculed fellow believers we should be ok to step outside our comfort zone.
- Contrary to popular ideas, we don’t get to redefine marriage, and we don’t get to substitute God with money, or the other way around.
Vv 7-25 Leaders: What to do with them?
When it comes to leaders and how we relate to them, we get a clear principle here: Look at the results of their lives. If you like what you see, imitate them. When we fine-tune the idea a bit more, looking up for Christian role models who we’d like to follow boils down to this simple principle: look at their lives, if you like what you see, imitate their faith.
Take Bobby and me for example.
- If we play the word association game, chances are that when I say “Igor” you think “you idiot, and peasant!”
- If I say “Bobby” probably we’ll think “peace that transcends understanding.”
In my friendship with Bobby I see that he’s a peaceful guy and I have no problem looking up to him in this manner. He looks up in other ways to me, and it’s a peer-leadership model that works great. Whoever these leaders are, the fundamental principle is that we consider who we follow based on their life, not their words.
Following leaders means living with them, learning from them. We can’t follow those we’ve never really met. No, the pope can’t be your leader. Billy Graham either… he doesn’t know you exist. If we don’t have a personal connection with the leader, there’s not much following going on.
The interesting part here about following is that leadership is a two way street. We follow leaders by interacting with them. It’s a vibrant relationship. The challenge here is for us to be teachable, to be easy to lead. A leadership relationship is a mentoring relationship. If we don’t allow the local leaders to form and mold us, there’s not much of following really.
Sometimes we’re open to be taught and led. In my life I had about a dozen solid guys who mentored me, and this was intense. We’d meet at least twice per week, talk about issues, go over personal problems, study the Bible together, read books and discuss about the ideas… With most of them I spent at least two years in this intensive “training for life” and I love being in such a relationship of mutual growth, a “iron sharpens iron” situation.
Sometimes, unfortunately we stick to our ideas and stubbornly resist being led, taught, trained. I’ve been on both ends of the equation and I know how frustrating it was for my mentors when I refused to give up on my ideas, mostly because I wasn’t open to listen. I was a tough person to train. But I’m thankful to all the people God placed in my life that didn’t give up on me. Without their persistence I would be way worse than I am today.
I’ve been on the teaching end of the equation. Through the years in various churches and groups, I had the privilege and responsibility to teach many.
- Some were easy to guide and they grew in their faith and now mentor other youngsters
- Some were too stubborn to listen, too busy to invest in spiritual development.
In almost all of the cases, when people were willing to listen, willing to change their thinking, willing to be challenged to grow… great things happened and they grew a lot. It wasn’t easy but it was definitely worth the effort and pain. Those who didn’t follow such leadership went astray in all sorts of strange ideas and practices, as we see here in the text, that some people were returning back to some ritualistic lifestyle as if Christianity can be reduced to a spiritual checklist.
In this second section we see how to pick good leaders, how to live with them and how to be good followers. All this helps us be better people, stronger Christians. Growth isn’t easy, it doesn’t happen over-night, but it’s well worth the effort and we’re all invited to lead and to follow, as part of this unbroken chain of faithful people that learn from each other as we all look up to Christ.
And as the class is about to end, and the bell already marked the end of the official class, let’s rush to cover the key points of this chapter, as the text tries to teach us of the key ideas of this epistle:
- Having a strong dedication to the local church, helping, serving, teaching, encouraging… even if that means stepping way out of our comfort zone
- Be open to newcomers because we never know in what way God will work through them and affect our life
- Remain faithful in marriage because God called us to such dedication to one-another
- Remember, in all our wealth or poverty, that wealth is not a substitute for Godliness, nor Godliness a substitute for hard work
- Pick good leaders and be good followers as we live with them on a daily basis
- Be clear on the role of Christ’s saving grace in our life and never substitute it with Religious Checklists
- Keep in mind that our life with Christ and other Christians stretches from here into eternity.
There are tons of other solid principles that we’ve learned from Hebrews. But with these 7, as presented roughly in this last chapter, we do get plenty of material to apply to our lives, both as individuals and as a community.
It’s not going to be easy. Christian living was never easy. But keeping our focus on Christ our ultimate leader, it’s easy to stick with him knowing that His faithfulness resulted with a resurrection for eternal glory, and we too are called to participate/share this eternal life.
That’s the Good News. That’s the hope that we as believers have. And this reward surpasses all the suffering along the way.