The author of Hebrews, under Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has penned in many respects what could be considered a masterful sermon. For twelve chapters, he has unfolded the finished work of Christ and His superior mediation of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant all the while leaning heavily on the prior revelation of God to buttress his arguments thereby showing the continuing relevance of the Old Testament. Sprinkled along the way were warnings against falling away, which comes through progressive hardening of the heart brought on by negligence of faith and duty.
In the final chapter of this majestic tapestry, he shifts his focus away from the doctrinal to the practical. This pattern is what that every good sermon, every good preacher, should follow in laying out first doctrine, here the finished work of Christ, followed by the implications that it has upon the Christian life. We may say summarily, orthodoxy should always lead to orthopraxy.
Sometimes we may hear preaching that is heavy on the duty of Christian life that can come off largely as moralism or legalism, a kind of “Christian” lifting up by the bootstraps. Other times we may hear preaching that is so doctrinally heavy that it is distanced from the heart of the hearer. Balance is key, and naturally as a product of Divine inspiration, Hebrews has it.
Chapter 13 begins with an attention towards relationships among believers and an exhortation to “let brotherly love continue”. As would be expected, this flows out of the doctrinal portion of the sermon, as biblically it follows subordinately after the first greatest commandment, namely to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul.
In a sense, all that is to come in this passage concerning a believer’s relationships within the body of Christ is developed from 12:14, “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Peace with God is obtained on behalf of the believer through Christ’s shed blood, therefore, we are now to have peace with others and the first point in this relational peace is brotherly love.
This exhortation is not new, but seemingly builds on the author’s statements in 6:10 and 10:24 and though expressed as an imperative, there is a commendation here as well in the congregation’s “continuing” in love toward the brothers, an action they were clearly already engaged in and now being encouraged to continue.
Second, we read that hospitality is to be shown to strangers. This seems clearly to draw upon Jesus’ illustration in Matthew 25:31-46, though here we get the addition of the supportive statement, “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”. The mention of angels purposefully ties into 1:14 “are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” The point of the passage is that angels have a role in plan of God to minister to His people. Surely drawing upon the experiences of Old Testament saints, such as Abraham and Jacob to name a few, as well as their prominent role in their encounters with New Testament believers (See Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, etc). This instruction should serve as a warning for us to show hospitality to all, regardless of the whom or the where. In short, the relationships and encounters that we have here on earth are not trivial, but have eternal consequences. There are no meaningless encounters.
Third, we see the relationships with those who are in prison addressed next. This isn’t a general statement meant to apply across the board towards prisoners, as though a passage to support prison ministry (though that is certainly a fine ministry). Instead its focus is narrowed to those who have been imprisoned on account of their faith, ala the Apostle Paul. Additionally, this exhortation is not limited to those who are in prison, but extends to those who have been mistreated, again on account of their faith. This verse, along with its internal parallel with 10:32-34, gives us great insight into why the Hebrews were faced with the temptation to surrender their faith in Christ and return to Judaism, namely on account of persecution. Unity in the body of believers is seen as the driving motivation to minister to those who have been mistreated or imprisoned for the sake of Christ. If the pinky toe is injured, the whole body feels the pain. So too if one believer is imprisoned or mistreated the whole body should empathize.
The fourth area of relational peace that the author wishes to emphasize is marital, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” Implying that all of you hold the marriage bed in honor, we find the exhortation to keep it undefiled. In other words, keep it unstained, unsoiled or positively keep it chaste and pure.
This passages dovetails with the previous chapter’s warning example of Esau, “that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.” Heb. 12:16 Additionally, the undefiled nature of the marriage bed parallels the undefiled nature of Christ our High Priest, 7:26.
Two words are used to describe the nature of undefilement, sexual immorality, or fornication, which is general in nature, and adultery, which is more specific in nature. The former addresses all acts sexual in nature that are contrary to God’s design for marriage and is denoted by the Greek word pornos, the origin of the English word for pornography, if that gives you any additional insight or application towards what might constitute defilement of the marriage bed. The latter term, adultery, as mentioned is a more specific action targeting sexual relations with another, whether they too be married or not (see Exodus 20:14, Matthew 5:27-5:32, et.al.).
As the author enters into this very practical section of Hebrews, we must not lose sight of all that has come before it. Like a master weaver, he has grounded these exhortations in the finished work of Christ. All that he now instructs for the Christian life finds its basis, motivation, and strength in this such that there is no room for legalism and certainly no room for neglect of Christian duty. Be exhorted Christians to be at peace in your relationships. After all, it is through Christ that you have peace with God the Father, so then let that peace flow through you unto others in the body.
Soli Deo Gloria