Checklist in Hebrews 13
Before you climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge there’s a checklist that covers your: age, height, blood alcohol reading, pregnancy status, essential medication, and health. To climb the bridge, you need to satisfy all these requirements.
Today we are looking at a checklist given at the end of Hebrews that helps us to keep following Jesus and not turn back to our old ways. Then we will please God by doing His will.
Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were being tempted to give up following Jesus and turn back to their Jewish religious customs. Hebrews tells them what God wanted them to know and to do. They were to know three things. First, that Jesus is greater than all their Jewish heroes like the prophets, angels, Moses, and the priests (Ch 1-10). Second, that following Jesus is like running in a marathon race (Ch 10-12). As athletes keep running through adversity, we can keep following Jesus through adversity by: focusing on God and Jesus; encouraging one another; and removing the obstacles that hinder us. Third, the danger of not believing the gospel message because this excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins (Ch. 1-12). Once they knew these truths the final chapter tells them what to do about it.
As Hebrews was probably written to a church about AD 68, which is well after the early days of the church, we can generally apply the principles in it to us today without needing much consideration of the changes since then.
Hebrews 13 begins with three outward things.
Love one another (v.1)
Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.
The Greek noun used here is philadelphia (Strongs #5360), which is love among brothers and sisters in a family. It describes the connection and relationship that should be felt with all true Christians. Because God is now like our Father and we are like His children, all who have trusted in Him are like siblings in a spiritual family. That’s why we often call each other brothers and sisters. These metaphors should influence our thoughts and behavior towards each other. Paul wrote, “Be devoted to one another in love (philadelphia)” (Rom. 12:10NIV).
Do we feel the family connection with believers in our church? Do we feel the connection with other believers in our area? In our city? In our state? In our nation? In other nations across the world?
Practice hospitality (v.2)
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
The Greek noun translated “hospitality” (#5381) means friendliness shown to strangers. It’s providing them with food and shelter. The Bible also says “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” and “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pt. 4:9). Christians who were fleeing from persecution certainly needed hospitality. Jesus commended those who showed hospitality, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Mt. 25:35).
By showing hospitality, we can support God’s people and God’s servants. Abraham (Gen. 18:1-15), Lot (Gen. 19:1-17), Gideon (Jud. 6:11-24 and Samson’s father Manoah (Jud. 13:9-23) each showed hospitality to angels although they didn’t know who their visitors were at the time.
Do we show hospitality to Christians who are in need? Have we taken the initiative and invited them into our home? In this way we can share in their Christian lives and our family can benefit from the interaction. Do we show hospitality to non-Christians? Have we invited a non-Christian into our home over the past year? This can be a blessing to both families.
Practice empathy (v.3)
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Christians were imprisoned and mistreated during this time of persecution. Their colleagues were told to remember them in a particular way. The Greek text says “as being bound with them” in prison and “as also yourselves being in their body” when they are mistreated. This is empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Paul expressed it as, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Previously they had “stood side by side” with those who were persecuted and “suffered along with those in prison” (Heb. 10:33-34). Also, Jesus commended those who visited prisoners, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt. 25:36). Ancient prisons didn’t give prisoners any food, so visits from friends were essential.
Do we have empathy for Christians who are suffering? Can we imagine what it is like walking in their shoes?
Hebrews 13 then addresses two inward things.
Be sexually pure (v.4)
Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Before sin came into the world, God created marriage between a man and a woman. He wants us to hold it in high regard. On the other hand, the Bible says that sexual immorality is a sin against God (Gen. 39:9). Besides the problems it causes in this life, it brings God’s judgement unless one is pardoned through Christ’s death as our substitute.
A reason to honor marriage is because it is to be an example of the loving relationship between Christ and His bride the church (Eph. 5:22-33). Marriage is dishonoured by adultery and sexual immorality, which is having sexual relations with someone who is not your spouse. Sexual sin impacts one’s relationships, family and Christian witness. It has more influence on one’s life than other sins (1 Cor. 6:18). God’s people need to exercise self-control in this area. After all, one of the gifts of the Spirit is self-control.
How are we influenced by the loose sexual standards in society today? What about pornography? If we are married, are we faithful to our spouse?
Be contented (v.5-6)
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
These Christians were tempted to want more money and what it can buy. Paul used the same Greek adjective (#866) to say that a church elder shouldn’t be “a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:3). He also learnt “to be content whatever the circumstances” and taught that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”, which brings griefs and causes people to wander from the Christian faith (Phil. 4:11-13; 1 Tim. 6:6-10). Instead they were to be content with what they had, which was Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Verse 5 quotes Moses at the end of his life telling the Israelites that God would help them possess the land of Canaan, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Dt. 31:6). This strong promise is the key to being freed from the love of money. It’s realizing that God is always with us; we’re never alone.
Verse 6 quotes the Israelites giving thanks to God for deliverance from their enemies “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The LORD is with me; He is my helper” (Ps. 118:6-7). Nothing can separate us from God and His love and His promise of eternal life. Likewise, Christians can trust God for their safety, protection and economic welfare. They shouldn’t fear financial loss or poverty. Instead trust God to take care of you.
If we believe the promise that the Lord is always with us and empowers us, then we will love one another, show hospitality and empathy, be sexually pure, and avoid the love of money.
Are we contented with what we have in life? Or are we discontent and influenced by materialism? Are we greedy? Are we afraid of the future? Or do we trust that the Lord is with us?
Hebrews 13 then looks at how we live our spiritual lives, beginning with a source of strength to live a Christian life like this.
Follow godly church leaders (v.7-8, 17)
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
They are given the example of godly church leaders to follow and imitate. In the past these leaders had taught them God’s word. The leaders kept following Jesus throughout their lives – they were faithful despite the difficulties, and they finished well. They didn’t go back to their previous Jewish ways of worship. That’s the kind of faith to follow and imitate.
These leaders’ teaching and faith was based on the fact that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v.8). This means that His character is the same, not that He does the same things in every age. As God, He has the same love, wisdom, righteousness, power, knowledge and plan. He never changes His mind because of unforeseen circumstances.
Church leaders are also mentioned in v.17.
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.
Church elders are to care for (“keep watch over”) the spiritual welfare of the congregation. Elders are accountable to God at the Judgment Seat of Christ for this pastoral care. This is serious business. They will be asked, what did you teach? How did you live? How did you care for the lonely, the suffering, and the disobedient?
The congregation is to respect, trust and follow such godly leaders (elders) because of the work they do. This gives them joy and the congregation benefits.
If we are an elder are we a godly example for the congregation? Are we keeping watch over them? Do we pray for them regularly? Are we interested in their spiritual growth? Are we ready to give an account of our time and effort used in this task? If we are in the congregation, do we respect the elders? Do we pray for them? Are we willing to let them take an interest in our spiritual growth?
Next they are urged not to return to the false teachings of Jewish legalism.
Follow Jesus (v.9-12)
Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat (v.9-10)
Holiness doesn’t come from following rituals and food laws, which were some of the false teachings they were being tempted to follow. Only God’s love and kindness shown to us by Jesus can empower believers to live holy lives through their relationship with God. It takes inner strength to live the Christian life as it is described in Hebrews 13.
Then it says “we have an altar”, which is a figure of speech (metonymy) for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Through it we can have forgiveness and hope. Instead of Jewish rituals and rules, we have Christ’s supreme sacrifice and the blessings it brings. All those involved with the Jewish religion had no right to the better things of Christianity (because they rejected Jesus as their Savior). They must first confess and repent of their sins and accept Him as Lord and Savior.
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood. (v.11-12)
Under the Jewish sacrificial system, certain animals were killed and their blood was brought into the most holy place of the temple by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin. The people’s sins were symbolically transferred to the sacrificial animal. The body of the animal was disposed of away from the temple (or “outside the camp”) (Ex. 29:14; Lev. 4:12, 21; 9:11; 16:14, 27). Likewise, Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem at a place where criminals (those rejected by society) were punished (Jn. 19:17). His death enabled us to have our sins forgiven so we can be holy before God. It says that God can make us holy through the death of Jesus (“His own blood” means His death).
Are we tempted like the Jewish Christians to go back to our old ways of life? To the things that occupied us before we changed to follow the Lord.
Because of Jesus, Christians don’t need to sacrifice animals. Instead they offer different sacrifices.
Suffering, praise and good works (v.13-16)
Let us, then, go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (v.13-14)
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (v.16-17)
Instead of offering sacrifices at Jerusalem, as Christians they were to offer three other kinds of sacrifices. The first is a sacrifice of suffering for Christ (v.13-14). Because Jesus suffered outside the city of Jerusalem to meet our need (v.12), Christians are urged to join Jesus in His sufferings (v.13). “The camp” represented their old Jewish religion centred at Jerusalem (for us it can mean our previous way of life before we followed Christ). The Jewish believers escaped from Jerusalem because they were persecuted and ridiculed by the Jewish religious leaders for following Jesus (Acts 8:1-4). They suffered insults and shame. As disciples of Christ they denied themselves, took up their cross and followed Him (Mk. 8:34). Likewise, to meet the needs of this world we need to leave our comforts and security. Instead of putting our efforts into building our lives in this world, which won’t endure; we should be putting them into heaven, which is everlasting.
The Jewish religion was centred on the city of Jerusalem. That’s where the temple was.
But Christians don’t have a special city on earth. Instead, they look ahead to the new Jerusalem (the coming city) where God and Jesus are enthroned (v.14). Unlike earthy cities, this city is permanent and secure. They long for heaven and its joy and eternal pleasures (Ps. 16:11). Because they are satisfied with all that God has done, they long to be with Him. They value the Creator above the creation. They’re only visiting this planet, it’s not their home.
The second is a sacrifice of words of praise offered to God through the Lord Jesus (v.15). It’s “through Jesus” because that’s the only way we can approach God (Heb. 7:25; 10:19-21). He’s our mediator. This is to be “continual” verbal praise, not just on Sunday. Every day of the week and in good times and bad times (Acts 16:23-25). It flows from our satisfaction with God and longing to be with Him (v.14). How can we creatively mention our faith in Jesus and God’s greatness and goodness in our conversations? Are our meetings God-centred?
The third is a sacrifice of good works (v.16). It says “to do good and to share with others” who are in need. This would include the things mentioned earlier in the chapter, such as using our time and possessions in loving one another, and showing hospitality and empathy. Living for others. Doing the good works that God has prepared for us (Eph. 2:10). Then a reason is given for doing this “for with such sacrifices God is pleased”. God is pleased with this sacrifice because when we live like this, we show that He is more valuable than the things of this world. If God is our treasure, we’ll serve Him by helping others instead of being devoted to the things of this world.
How do we rate on these sacrifices? Are we willing to suffer and be ridiculed because we are a Christian? What about moving outside our churches to evangelize our neighbourhoods, our cities, our nation and the nations of the world? Do we have a heart of praise? Do we live for others?
Up to now the book of Hebrews has been like a sermon, but it finishes like a letter.
Keep praying (v.18-19)
Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.
The writer appeals for their prayers. Because he says he has a clear conscience and desires to live honorably in every way, he may have been attacked by Jewish critics. As he also asks them to pray that he might be able to visit them soon, it seems as though he had been delayed. Perhaps he was in prison (v.23). Prayer is another way to seek God’s help to live a life that pleases Him.
Do we pray for others?
The writer now expresses his final desire and prayer for those he is writing to.
Recognize God’s work (v.20-21)
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
He calls God the “God of peace”, because through Jesus we can have peace with God. Our sins separate us from God, but through Jesus we can be reconciled and draw near to God.
The fact that Jesus was raised back to life after being in the tomb showed that His mission was accomplished – His death paid the penalty owing for the sin of humanity. Because of this we can share in God’s eternal covenant, which is also called the new covenant. A covenant is a promise, and because of what Jesus did, we know that God keeps His promises.
Jesus is called the “great Shepherd of the sheep”, which is a metaphor for a great leader of all the redeemed. Sheep need guiding to fresh pasture and protection from predators. Because He is alive, and because by His Spirit He is always with us, He can guide and protect those who follow Him.
His prayer was that God would give them the desire and resources to do His will and the power to carry it out (also see Phil. 2:13). Doing God’s will is what pleases Him. Then they could be faithful and keep following and serving Christ and have inner strength and faith to persevere to the end (Jer.32:40).
All this equipping believers and pleasing God is achieved “through Jesus Christ”. It’s the same explanation as given for how Paul learnt to be content in all circumstances: “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). That’s why Jesus deserves glory and praise for ever and ever.
Do we give Jesus glory, honor and praise as our great spiritual leader? Do we realize that God equips us and works in us? Are we like Paul whose goal was to please God (2 Cor. 5:9; Col. 1:10; 1 Th. 4:1)?
We have seen that an understanding of the greatness of Jesus, the importance of perseverance and the danger of unbelief needs to be expressed by loving one another; showing hospitality and empathy; sexual purity; avoiding the love of money; following Jesus and godly church leaders instead of false teachings; persevering in the Christian faith by accepting suffering, by continual praise and by doing good works; prayer; and by letting God work though us.
In 1935 a Boeing B-17 aircraft crashed when being evaluated by the US Army. The crash was caused by pilot error. When they realized that flying the plane was too complex to rely on the pilot’s memory, they developed checklists to make sure nothing was forgotten.
Let’s use this checklist in Hebrews 13 to keep following Jesus and not turning back to our old ways. Then we will please God by doing His will.
Written, May 2015
Selfies are common in social media like Facebook and Instagram. It’s easy because all smart phones have cameras. A selfie is a photo of yourself. It’s is all about me. I am in the centre of the photo. The word “selfie” was first used in an Australian internet forum in 2002. But what does the Bible say about selfies? We will see that normal Christian relationships are characterized by respect and care; not selfies.
Let’s look at a verse on a Christian’s relationships with others: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Pt. 3:8NIV). The letter of 1 Peter was written to churches facing suffering and persecution. The verses beforehand address a Christian’s relationships with the government, their employer and their spouse (1 Peter 2:13 – 3:7). The main attitudes to be shown in these relationships are respect and submission. The verses afterward address a Christian’s response to suffering and persecution, which is to be characterized by doing good and pursuing peace.
Our verse lists five characteristics: like-mindedness, sympathy, family love, compassion, and humility. These may be grouped into two categories of “respect” and “care”.
If we are like-minded and humble towards each other, we will respect each other. Being like-minded is to have unity and to be harmonious. Paul said, “Live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 12:16). It is like a musical instrument playing along with others in a band or orchestra or a person singing in a choir.
How do we get along with other Christians, especially those at church? Are we harmonious together? Or are we just a disjointed group of individuals who don’t get along together?
Being humble is the opposite of being proud and having an inflated view of one’s importance. Peter also wrote, “clothe yourselves with humility” (1 Pt. 5:5). It’s as essential as clothing. So it’s not all about me. It’s all about you. It’s all about us. That’s what’s wrong with selfies and wanting people to “like” us on social media.
Are we happy for others to succeed and to take a more prominent role than us? Do we seek recognition for what we do?
If we have sympathy, family love and compassion towards each other, we care for each other. I think “empathy” would be a better translation than “sympathy”. The verb form is used in Hebrews to say that Jesus empathizes with our weaknesses because He was temped like us (Heb. 4:15NIV). It means to be in touch with another’s emotions and feelings. Paul wrote, “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Do we recognize what life is like for each other and share the ups and downs? Or do we ignore them?
As all true Christians are children of God, we are to love one another as those in the same family or team. And we know that families and teams can be great or terrible. It’s meant to be great because Paul associates this type of love with humility, generosity and hospitality (Rom. 12:10-13).
The third aspect of our care for each other given in this verse is compassion. Paul associates this with kindness and a forgiving attitude (Eph. 4:32) and John says it is helping a fellow-believer and is associated with sacrificial love (1 Jn. 3:16-18).
Are our relationships with each other like this? Or do we go through the motions without any real empathy, love and compassion? We live in a selfish world. Selfies are common. At times like these, the Israelites were told to “stop doing wrong” and “learn to do right” (Is. 1:16-17). This is a change of 180 degrees. For us this means to stop focusing on our self so much.
My smart phone has two cameras that aim 180 degrees apart. When one lens is aimed at me, the other is aimed away from me. If we want to take less selfies, we need to either use the other lens or aim away from us.
So let’s look around and get involved in each other’s lives because God wants us to care for each other like He does.
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be empathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Pt. 3:8). These are the characteristics of normal Christian relationships. They reflect the attitude and example of Christ.
So let’s be respectful towards each other – full of respect. And careful towards each other – full of care. Let’s respect and care for one another because normal Christian relationships are characterised by respect and care; not selfies.
Written, April 2014
Characteristics of a godly congregation
Children are born into families whose goal is to raise them to maturity. As Christians, God has placed believers in a spiritual family which will last forever. Let’s look at some key goals for our spiritual family, the local church.
The Greek word “ekklesia”, which means a “calling out”, is used in the Bible to describe a gathering, meeting or congregation. It has also been translated as a “church” or “assembly”. This word is used in the New Testament to describe Christians in either a global or a local sense. This article focuses on the local church, which is comprised of believers in a particular region who meet together regularly. For example, Paul begins his letters “To the church of God in Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2 TNIV); “To the church of the Thessalonians” (1 Th. 1:1); “To the churches in Galatia” (Gal. 1:2).
When He was here, the Lord promised “I will build my church” (Mt. 16:18). The church began on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Christ’s death, when the Holy Spirit indwelt the Lord’s followers (Acts 2). So, don’t look in the Old Testament to learn about the church, because it was unknown in those times.
The Church Revealed to Paul
God used Paul to bring us the most complete revelation about the church by revealing a new truth, which was unknown to previous generations (Eph. 3:2-12). The Greek word for mystery, “musterion” occurs three times in this passage (v.3, 5, 9) and means a secret, which in this case was made known by divine revelation at a time appointed by God. It has been referred to as, “The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people” (Col. 1:26).
What was this new truth? “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:6). The church was to be comprised of Jews and Gentiles who followed the Lord. This truth was also revealed by the Holy Spirit to other New Testament apostles and prophets (Eph. 3:5). The gospel message that Christ as the Son of God offered up His life to enable a company of forgiven people to become members of the church was the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20; 1 Cor. 3:11).
Before this time, the world was divided into two classes of people: Jew and Gentile. But Jesus introduced a third class: the Christian church (1 Cor. 10:32). All Christians are equal before God and have equal access to God because the distinctions between people under the Old Testament law have been abolished: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
One of God’s goals is to show the angels His manifold wisdom through the church (Eph. 3:10-11). They see how a loving God triumphed over sin by offering His Son so that sinners of all races and nations could have a heavenly inheritance of eternal life. They see the church as being part of God’s new creation.
Churches in the New Testament
Before He ascended back to heaven, Jesus told the apostles, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
On the day of Pentecost, the first church was formed at Jerusalem. Later when the church was persecuted, Christians were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1) and churches were established. Then they travelled to Phoenica, Cyprus and Antioch (Acts 11:19) and churches were established. Later Paul in a series of missionary journeys established churches in Galatia (now part of Turkey), Asia (now part of western Turkey; this is where the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 were located); Macedonia (now part of Greece), Achaia (now part of Greece), and a church was established in Rome before Paul was taken there. So, churches were established across the known world around the Mediterranean Sea.
Since that time missionaries have travelled across the earth and churches have been established in all countries.
The believers at Thessalonica became a model to all the believers in Greece (1 Th. 1:7). The reason given by Paul for this was, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Th. 1:6). In the context of seeking the good of others, Paul wrote “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Also, in the context of being kind, compassionate and forgiving, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2). Two characteristics are mentioned here: love and sacrifice. We will look at the topic of “love” shortly. Christ sacrificed His life for us; He gave up His life. That’s an example for the church to follow.
One of the metaphors of the church is a body, with Christ as the head. This illustrates the close connection between Christ and the church. As a head directs its body via the nervous system, the church should be directed by Christ. That’s why an essential goal of the local church is to imitate the Lord. After all, it’s His representative on earth. So, the local church is to be Christlike and godly.
“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26). The word “Christian” means “follower of Christ”. Although probably originally used in a derogatory sense, it took over from the term “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22).
So the saying “What would Jesus do?” is a good one when looking at goals for the local church. The best way to find Christ’s example is to see how the apostles wrote about this between Acts and Revelation, because these letters were written to the church. We can also learn from the Gospels, but we need to realise that, although they were written after the day of Pentecost, they record what happened when Jesus came as Messiah to the Jews. They fill the gap between the Old Testament and the church, describing what happened while Christ was on earth before the church commenced.
Faith, Hope and Love
Paul commended the Thessalonians for “your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 1:3). Later he says, “since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Th. 5:8). They were motivated by faith, love and hope. These are the characteristics of a godly life: dependence on God, love for the Lord and for one another, and the hope of Christ’s return. They are often mentioned together in the New Testament and we will look briefly at each of these.
The Greek word for faith, “pistis”, means a spiritual conviction. It is used in the New Testament to describe: trust, trustworthiness and by metonymy (a figure of speech in which the name of one thing is used for another associated with it), what is trusted (“the faith”). Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit that accompanies salvation (Gal. 5:22-23).
This word is used to describe living by faith; “… let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:22-24). We trust in God because He gave Christ as our Saviour. He is “faithful”; He keeps His promises. In the case of the believers in Thessalonica, their faith in God became known everywhere (1 Th. 1:8).
This word is also used to describe the truth we trust: “dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 20-21). Here the faith is the truth of the gospel and the doctrine of the New Testament. The church is built up by studying and obeying the Bible. In the case of the believers in Thessalonica, they shared the gospel with their neighbours and friends—“The Lord’s message rang out from you” (1 Th. 1:8).
The Greek word for hope, “elpis”, means favourable and confident expectation. It is something that is certain, not something that is doubtful.
In the context of waiting eagerly for the resurrection of our bodies, Paul wrote, “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Rom. 8:24-25). Hope accompanies salvation. It involves the future, “what we do not yet have”.
The believers in Thessalonica had “hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” and waited “for His Son from heaven” (1 Th. 1:3, 10). Despite severe suffering, they had an attitude of joy. They saw the big picture that God was in control of their circumstances and their eternal destiny was secure. (1 Th. 1:6)
We have the hope of eternal life in heaven. It’s a part of the gospel. This hope is a reason to be faithful and loving: “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all His people—the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard in the true word of the gospel that has come to you” (Col. 1:3-6).
Our hope comes from God: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13). “Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God” (1 Pt. 1:21). Because He is the Son God who died for our sin, Christ is our only hope of getting to heaven: “Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1).
As a church we need to be optimistic, not pessimistic. We may experience disappointment and hardships, but God is working towards the time when we will be taken to be with Him in heaven where we will be like the Lord. This will be a great celebration, like a wedding feast where the Lord will be the groom and we will be the bride.
One of the Greek words for love, “agape”, means God’s deep and constant love of sinful humanity (seen in the gift of His Son) that fosters a reverential love in them towards God and a practical love towards others.
In all His actions, God is loving: “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). His plan of salvation through Christ was an act of love that should cause us to love one another: “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:9-11).
Love accompanies salvation; it is a fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22). When we experience the Lord’s amazing love, it causes us to respond by loving Him and others. This love distinguishes Christians who comprise the church. Jesus told His disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn. 13:34-35). Also, “He has given us this command: Those who love God must also love one another” (1 Jn. 4:21).
In 1 Corinthians 13, “love” is mentioned 7 times in 13 verses and Paul emphasises that everything must be done in a spirit of love. This love is a selfless concern for the welfare of others. It concludes, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”. One of the reasons for this is that love is eternal.
With regard to the church Paul wrote “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:15-16). The truth must be taught in a loving manner if we are to become more Christ-like. Like a human body, the church should develop with time so that it matures and becomes more loving as it carries out its functions.
The Thessalonicans service for God was motivated by love to the Lord; in their “labour prompted by love”, they served “the living and true God” (1 Th. 1:3, 9).
Initially the church in Jerusalem and Judea was Jewish, but then God showed Peter (Acts 10:1-11:18), Paul and Barnabas (Acts 11:19-24) that Gentiles could now also be a part of God’s people. Combining such people with different cultures and traditions together in the church was one of the biggest issues in the early years of the church. Firstly, some Jewish believers went from Judea to Antioch teaching that the male Gentile believers needed to be circumcised as the Jews were in the Old Testament times (Acts 15). Some likeminded Christians in Jerusalem were teaching that the Gentiles were also required to keep the law of Moses. This matter was discussed and resolved amongst the church at Jerusalem who then informed those who had been affected by this controversy.
Paul also told those at Corinth to stop following different leaders because this was divisive, but to have unity instead (1 Cor 1:10-13; 3:1-9). In the letter to the churches at Galatia, he opposed legalism because it divided the church. In Romans he dealt with tensions between Jewish and Gentile believers over eating meat that had been offered to idols and over Jewish festivals (Rom. 14:1-15:7; 1 Cor. 8).
The church in Ephesus was told that the Jewish and Gentile believers were “fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household” (Eph. 2:19). Consequently the hostility between them was to be replaced with peace (Eph. 2:14-18). They were to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:3-6). While it takes an effort to promote unity, all these spiritual things we have in common are powerful unifying forces in the church.
Lessons for us
As a congregation are we imitating Christ? What are we willing to give up to follow the Lord’s example? The local church depends on people giving up their time, resources, abilities and energy. When we make corporate decisions we should include the question, “What Would Jesus Do”?
What about the core qualities of faith, hope and love? If our faithfulness is strong, we will witness for Christ. If our hope is strong, we will be encouraging and optimistic about what God is doing. If our love is strong, we will be humble and compassionate.
Are we faithful in studying and obeying the Bible as a congregation? Are we sharing our faith in the gospel message? Are we optimistically looking forward to being with the Lord? Are we joyful to be a part of His new creation? Are we known for our love for one another? Does an attitude of love permeate all we do in word and deed?
If we imitate Christ and strengthen our faith, hope and love, surely we will have unity. Nevertheless, we need to be reminded as a congregation of the many spiritual things which we have in common, and which are more important than our differences.
Let’s be more Christ-like, faithful, hopeful, loving and united and develop these goals to become the congregation that God wants us to be.
Written, November 2007
What can we learn from her life?
About 2,000 years ago, a young teenage girl named Mary lived in Nazareth, Israel, a despised town of which people said, “Can anything good come from there?” (Jn. 1:46 NIV).
Mary lived under her father’s authority and had been trained by her mother to protect her father’s honor. In public, she dressed according to their social standing, behaved according to good manners, and spoke to men only when spoken to. Otherwise she would bring shame to her father.
In her day, a Jewish woman’s words didn’t count – everything had to be supported by male witnesses. Every day, the Jewish man thanked God that he had not been born a Gentile, a slave or a woman. Women received little education and were not taught the Law of God. In public, they were veiled; an uncovered head could result in divorce. Their social relationships were confined to other women. They did not eat with male guests, and men were discouraged from talking to women.
Mary’s mother managed the household under her husband’s direction. She managed the budget, prepared the food and saw to the welcoming rituals when her husband entertained. She reared and educated the children, the father taking over the son’s education and discipline at puberty. When she left the house to go shopping, she was usually accompanied by a suitable companion to protect her husband’s name from mistakes she might make.
At puberty, daughters were expected to marry, and suitable husbands were found by the parents. Daughters had no choice in this, otherwise they would bring shame on the family. Marriage age was low – 18-24 years for the man, 13-16 years for the girl. It was a patriarchal society which placed women in the same category as one’s ox, donkey or possessions.
A women’s security in her husband’s family was limited by his legal right to divorce her if she caused an “impediment” to the marriage. A man could divorce his wife without her consent for reasons ranging from unchastity, to burning a meal, or finding a fairer woman. When they went to the synagogue the women sat separate from the men. At social occasions the women were always in the background.
Mary was engaged to Joseph, the contract probably being arranged by their fathers and finalized in a public ceremony in the town square. If the husband-to-be wanted to break the betrothal, he had to get a bill of divorce. Let’s see how Mary responded to the circumstances in her life and what we can learn about that for mothers.
Fear And Confusion
When an angel visited Mary she was afraid and confused. She was “greatly troubled at his words,” but the angel said “Do not be afraid” (Lk. 1:29-30). She knew about angels from the synagogue and an angel had visited Zechariah, the priest in the temple (Lk. 1:11). Angels usually visited men, not women. This was most unusual. What was going on? Why did it visit her, the least important one in the family, and not Joseph or her father? How would she tell Joseph about it; there were no male witnesses? Would he believe her being made pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:35)?
Then there was the fear of rejection. To be pregnant while engaged was scandalous. If suspected of unfaithfulness she could be divorced or even put to death (Dt. 22:23-24). Would she be rejected by Joseph and left to bring up this child alone in a culture hostile to women – and probably remain unmarried for life? If she was also rejected by her father she could be forced into begging or prostitution to survive.
An Illegitimate Child
Although Jesus would have been easy to love, Mary faced many struggles. A child born during engagement was considered illegitimate. There would have been suspicions of adultery. People would have wondered, who was the father? Did the child look like Joseph? Mary would have faced this stigma for years, as the whole community would have known.
A Hated Child
Then she had to face the fact that people hated her child. Joseph and Mary escaped into Egypt when Jesus was a baby because the king wanted to kill Him (Mt. 2:13). Later, the respected religious leaders bitterly opposed Jesus. They accused Him of blasphemy – of mocking God by claiming to forgive sins – and of breaking the Law (Lk. 5:21; Mt. 12:2), and planned to kill Him (Mt. 12:14). Mary would have felt this hatred as well, as she identified closely with her special son.
A Missing Child
Then there was the occasion when Jesus was lost for three days at the age of 12. Mary and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem and searched frantically for Him until they found Him among the teachers in the temple courts (Lk. 2:41-51). When His parents saw Him, they were astonished and Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you” (Lk. 2:48). She didn’t know whether her firstborn was dead or alive. Who was He with? Had He been kidnapped? Where did He spend the night? She was very concerned for His safety.
Mary faced two tragedies that are not often thought about. First, Joseph probably died sometime after Jesus was 12 years old, leaving her to raise the children alone. The fact that Joseph is not named in Matthew 13:55 possibly indicates his death. This means that Mary was a single mother and Jesus, the eldest son, was the head of the household and expected to care for his mother, brothers and sisters. This would have been a difficult time for Mary, bringing up her children without the support of a husband.
The second tragedy was when Jesus gave up His carpenter’s occupation and left home. The eldest son was expected to follow his father’s trade and position in society. In people’s eyes, Jesus dishonored His dead father when He left home on His messianic mission. He brought great shame on the family by giving up His responsibility as head of the household. That’s why Mary tried to get Jesus back into the household (Mk. 3:31-32).
A Rejected Child
His family said Jesus was insane; respected Jewish leaders said He was demon possessed (Mk. 3:21, 22). How would a mother cope with that? When she went to talk with Him, a messenger was sent through the crowd, but instead of replying to her concern, Jesus used the incident to teach the people the importance of putting God’s interests above family interests (Mk. 3:31-35). Mary could have felt rejected at this time. On another occasion we read that “even His own brothers did not believe in Him” (Jn. 7:5). How difficult for Mary, with such disputes between her children.
She Saw Her Child Die
Then Mary had to endure watching Jesus being crucified. Although most of the disciples had fled, she didn’t abandon Him (Jn. 19:25). When Jesus was eight days old, Simeon said that Mary would suffer as though she had been stabbed with a sword (Lk. 2:35). What suffering it would be for a mother to see her firstborn wrongfully accused, humiliated and executed.
How did Mary cope with motherhood that brought fear – the shame of an illegitimate child who was hated by the king and who went missing, being a single mother of a son who brought disgrace on the family and was rejected by society and executed before her eyes?
Followed God’s Will
Although she was afraid when the angel visited her, she accepted God’s will. After being told that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah, Mary accepted the situation saying, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (Lk. 1:38). She calls herself a female slave, one who waits on her Master and obeys in complete submission.
She believed that it would be a miraculous conception involving the Holy Spirit and God’s power, because the angel said “nothing is impossible with God.” Unlike Moses, she readily accepted the task. When God told Moses to go to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses said he was not good enough, and asked God to send someone else (Ex. 4:10, 13).
Mary rejoiced so much in what God was going to do with her life that she wrote a song about it (Lk. 1:46-55). She trusted that God was going to bring much blessing out of her life as mother of the Messiah. She knew that children are a gift from the Lord (Ps. 127:3).
In her song Mary praised God for His salvation (Lk. 1:46-49), for His mighty deeds (50-53), and for His faithfulness to Israel (54-55). Her song is full of Old Testament references. Clearly, Mary trusted God and the Scriptures.
A mother who praises God and knows His word makes a difference in her children and family. For example, Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim. 1:5). Timothy’s mother and grandmother passed on their Christian faith to him. Because Mary accepted God’s will for her life and praised Him, she was highly favored by God (Lk. 1:28, 30).
Protected Her Children
From the moment Jesus was born His life was in danger. When King Herod threatened His life, Mary and Joseph took Jesus and escaped to Egypt (Mt. 2:13-15). Mary also protected Jesus’ identity. Though she knew He was the promised Messiah, she kept this to herself. At His birth she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” and as he grew up she “treasured all these things in her heart” (Lk. 2:19,51).
Showed Love and Devotion
Mary’s love and devotion for Jesus began before He was born and lasted beyond the cross. She stood near the cross when He was crucified (Jn. 19:25-27) and was present with the believers in the upper room after the Ascension (Acts 1:14). Mary’s was an enduring love and devotion.
Mary was rewarded: she was there when Jesus was raised from the dead; she was among the 120 when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost; she saw her other children accept Jesus as Messiah; and today she’s in heaven.
A Supportive Husband
Although Joseph planned to divorce Mary quietly when he found out she was pregnant, so he “wouldn’t expose her to public disgrace,” he changed his mind after an angel appeared to him (Mt. 1:18-25). Joseph obeyed the angel’s message and married Mary. Mary had a supportive husband for at least 12 years. They were partners in raising Jesus to adulthood.
Husbands should love their wives, “just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Specifically we are to love our wives as our own bodies, helping them grow, and making them feel special (Eph. 5:28-29). This means supporting them by expressing confidence in them rather than controlling them, and praising them rather than criticizing them or taking them for granted.
An Understanding Friend
Mary visited Elizabeth, an older relative who was also expecting a child through miraculous circumstances – she was past the age of childbearing. Her child was John the Baptist. Elizabeth encouraged Mary during a difficult time.
Extended families are important and this should include the local church. Look around and you’ll find someone who needs encouragement. Or maybe you could offer to baby-sit so a husband and wife can have a day or evening to themselves. When her children were not present to support Mary in her grief at the cross, John was asked to care for her (Jn. 19:26-27), an example of the extended family.
A Model Mother
Mary was a special mother who had a special child. She lived in a society that was very different from ours, yet she had to deal with fear and a child that was hated, rejected and abused. She endured tragedy and suffering and she didn’t always understand what her child was saying or doing (Lk. 2:50). Yet the characteristics of the mother God chose to nurture His Son are a model for motherhood: she followed God’s will, knew His Word, praised Him enthusiastically, protected her children from danger, and showed them much love and devotion. She also had the support of her husband and friends in the family of God. Mothers play a most important role in our families. They deserve our honor and support.
Published, May 2003
The Bible says that God loves the people of this world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who has faith in Him will have eternal life and never really die. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent Him to save them (Jn. 3:16-17).
So, God loves people more than anything else in the world. This is true whether they follow Him or not. It is also true regardless of what their attitude and behavior toward Him may be.
Humanity is seen as the peak of God’s creation in the first two chapters of the Bible, where people are described as being made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27). They were also given the privilege and responsibility to care for the rest of the world and name “all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field” (Gen. 2:15,20 NIV).
In The Old Testament
After mankind sinned by disobeying God, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be a great nation and be of great benefit to everyone on earth (Gen. 12:1-3). This promise passed on to his son, Isaac, and then to his grandson, Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel (Gen. 28:13-14; 32:28). Consequently, the children of Israel were God’s special people in the Old Testament times. Through them He showed His great love and concern for humanity.
One of His promises to them was, “I will walk among you and be your God and you will be my people” (Lev. 26:12; Jer. 32:38; Ezek. 37:27). This promise is quoted in 2 Corinthians 6:16 to show that believers are God’s people today.
God said that the Israelites were “my people, who are called by my name” (2 Chr. 7:14). They were also referred to as “my people Israel” and “my people the Israelites” (1 Ki. 8:16; Ex. 7:4).
The term “my people” is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament to express the close relationship between God and the nation of Israel. This was demonstrated through history with the rescue from slavery in Egypt; sustenance during the desert journey; provision of laws for government, social and religious life; the conquest of Canaan; and protection against enemies, even when in exile. Finally, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was born and lived in a Jewish family and His ministry was mainly to Jewish people.
Just as in the story of the tenants, the Jews failed as God’s representatives on earth and even killed His Son (Mt. 21:33-46). So, after this, God turned His attention to other people.
In the New Testament
The announcement of Christ’s coming was “good news of great joy … for all the people” (Lk. 2:10). One reason for this was that the benefits of being part of God’s special people were to be made available to everyone across the globe. This was endorsed by Jesus who instructed his followers to go to the people of all nations and make them His disciples also (Mt. 28:19).
This truth was given to Peter who learned that God “accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). It was also evident to the early believers when they noted that God was taking “a people for Himself” from all nations (Acts 15:14).
Today, all true believers are “the people of God” (Heb. 4:9), “a people that are His very own” (Ti. 2:14) and “God’s people” (Rom. 12:13; 1 Cor. 16:1; 2 Cor. 9:12; Eph. 2:19; Heb. 13:24; Rev. 22:21). The Christian’s position as “people of God” is most evident in 1 Peter 2:9-10, where we are told that they are “a chosen people,” “a people belonging to God” and “now you are the people of God.”
His Love Today
Of course such people are from every community, language, nation and race (Rev. 5:9). This means that God’s people are spread all across the earth, with believers following Jesus in every country. For example, even though there was opposition and evil in the city of Corinth, the Lord assured Paul that he was safe “because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10).
This reminds me of a song, written by Russell Fragar (Hillsongs, Australia, 1993), that says,
All over the world
… people just like us
… are calling Your name
… and living in Your love.
All over the world
… people just like us
… are following Jesus.
Isn’t it wonderful to know that God loves people more than anything else in this world! And that today, His people can be found all over the world. And that His work of saving people is still going on today. And that He is using His people to communicate the Good News to those who have not yet heard it.
If you are already one of His people, we hope you will engage in the good work He called you to with these words: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mk. 16:15). We encourage you to begin right now, right where you live.
If you are not yet one of His people, we hope you will get in touch with His people and investigate the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Published, October 1997
“Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me. He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love him and show Myself to him” (Jn. 14:21 NIV).
John gives us the longest account of what Jesus told the disciples in the upper room on the night before He was crucified (Jn. 1317). A few verses before John 14:21 the Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit to indwell the disciples on the day of Pentecost. The key word “love” (“agapao” in Greek) appears 31 times in John 13-17. This self-sacrificing, unselfish love has a divine origin.
Two types of people are mentioned in John 14:15-24 – those who loved the Lord and those who did not. The first were believers, who were indwelt forever by the Holy Spirit, and who obeyed His commands. The others were unbelievers, who did not have the Holy Spirit and did not obey the Lord’s commands.
John 14:21 addresses believers, not unbelievers, in two sentences. The first sentence says that obeying the Lord’s command is evidence that one is a believer. For example, the disciples were told to “love one another” and this would show others that they were followers of Christ (Jn. 13:34-35). The second sentence says that the believer is loved by God the Father and God the Son, and they will make Themselves known to him in a special way: “We will come to him and make Our home with him” (Jn. 14:23-26). Of course unbelievers are also loved by God, but it’s a one-sided relationship as the love is not reciprocal: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8; Jn. 3:16).
John 14:21-26 shows that because believers have a relationship with the Lord and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the Son reveals Himself to them in a way that is not possible for unbelievers. So, increased love for God doesn’t mean that He will love us more, but that we will know Him better.
Published April 2010