All of us admire the great heroes of the faith listed in Hebrews 11. Against incredible odds they obeyed God’s instructions and received divine approval. Against hard tests they endured and were blessed. We love to read about them and tell their victory stories to our children at home and in Sunday school.
But we wonder – would I have built that ark — like Noah did? Would I have left my home in Ur for Canaan –like Abraham did? Would I have given up my position in the palace in Egypt to cast my lot with slaves — like Moses did? Would I have believed that God would miraculously drive out the Canaanites and give me the land – like Joshua and Caleb did?
We would all like to have hero-type faith, but we need to be strengthened and we need to become mature before we are able to face the more challenging things in life. God prepares us for hard times with daily tests in the ordinary experiences of everyday life. Where do we start in our journey to greater faith?
We need to face several realities.
God hasn’t asked us to build an ark or relocate to Canaan among fierce pagans or lead the slaves out of Egypt.
What He has asked us to do is to live our everyday lives in a certain way that brings glory to Him and shows a difference to the world. He has asked us to serve Him well right now in our time and place.
As we mature, the tests of faith may become more difficult. Yet the rewards will be more wonderful. It can be an exciting journey. He will never ask us to do something that He hasn’t prepared us to do beforehand.
Even in our everyday lives, there are still incredible odds at times and there are still hard tests, but we have all of the helps and promises and guidance that we need to make a faithful life possible.
We will learn what God has said about new life in Christ as we explore Hebrews 13. We will learn what a new creation in Christ looks like.
DAYS ONE & TWO: MATURE LIFE IN CHRIST IS DESCRIBED.
READ: Hebrews 13:1-4
THE CHRISTIAN LIVES OUT GOD’S LOVE.
There is a new quality of love that is possible once the Holy Spirit has come to indwell believers. God pours His love into our hearts to be poured out to others (Romans 5:5). It is a supernatural kind of love that will distinguish Christians from all other people. It is not always an emotional feeling in the beginning; it is a choice to step out in faith to act in a certain way with the emotional feeling developing as we move along in obedience.
The Scriptures tell us that God is love (I John 4:8, 16). When he comes to indwell us, it is natural that we have the resources to love in a new way. The more we love, the more we resemble Christ. The author begins by pointing out four areas where Christ-like love is to be demonstrated.
Love of the brethren (v. 1)
God designed the Christian life be lived out as a church family. We need each other for love, encouragement, genuine fellowship and corporate worship. We are to show God-like love without favoritism in the body of Christ. Every person has equal standing as a beloved child of God. What fellow believer needs your love today?
Hospitality toward strangers (v. 2)
Hospitality is an important Christian characteristic mentioned several times in the New Testament. When we open our homes to others (even strangers), we are serving them in an important way. Often we are blessed richly by the fellowship and friendships that develop. God may even have a special purpose for our interaction with certain people as He did with the angels who came to Abraham’s house. Who needs an invitation to your house?
Remembering prisoners (v. 3)
God’s love extends to all of humanity, so we should not be surprised at His concern and compassion to those who are suffering adversity or persecution. Throughout history many saints have been imprisoned. Whether the prisoner is a fellow believer or not, a visit to a person isolated from society is a special ministry. Jesus indicated that we are representing Him when we do this (Matthew 25:39-40). When have you ministered to a person in prison?
Honoring marriage (v. 4)
Marriage is a sacred institution that was ordained by God from the beginning of creation. Marriage is a covenant between two people and God. It serves several purposes.
- he home is the first school of learning for a child to know the beauty of unconditional love. It is a place of teaching, training and modeling spiritual truths.
- Marriage is a mystical union of two people that pictures the union of Christ and His church. God joins two people into one.
- Marriage is the place for the physical love relationship between a man and a woman. Any impurity or faithlessness in sexual relationships will be judged by God.
How well are you showing God’s love in your home and marriage?
Supernaturally loving fellow believers, strangers, prisoners, and marriage partners sounds like a tall order. Left on our own, it would be exhausting or even impossible. However, Jesus promised that rivers of living water would flow out of the believer who is filled with His Spirit of pure love. Following these commands opens doors for God to work mightily.
QUESTIONS FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION
- What is the new “radical” kind of love that Christians are asked to show? (Matthew 5:43-44)
- What was Jesus’ standard for all of life? (Matthew 22:37-39)
- What was Jesus’ great desire for his followers? (John 15:12-13)
Peter shows another aspect of love expected of Christians. (I Peter 2:17) How have you met any of these commands this week?
- What practical way can you show love to Christians who are in jail or prison?
DAY THREE: THE CHRISTIAN LEARNS CONTENTMENT AND PEACE.
READ: Hebrews 13: 5-6
BELIEVERS MUST NOT BE LOVERS OF MONEY.
Is there any command that is more needed in our culture today than to be content with what we have been given? The world is obsessed with building bigger, better and more ostentatious lifestyles. Often we see people cheating their families and God’s kingdom work in order to be over-achievers in their careers. It is obvious when we see the end of a life that has been filled with greed and ambition that this kind of pursuit is not soul satisfying. But there is a great temptation to love and admire wealth and to spend our lives acquiring it.
BELIEVERS MUST BE CONTENT WITH GOD’S PROVISION.
Our Lord has asked us to demonstrate an alternative philosophy for life. We must learn to trust God. He knows our needs and He promises to provide. We can show the world that we are lovers of God and not lovers of money. This kind of peace and contentment will be a remarkable testimony. A Christian’s peace is called the peace that passes understanding (Philipians 4:7). The world cannot understand it because it is based on the underlying promises of God. Jesus promised His followers that when they seek the kingdom first all other things would be added unto them.
QUESTIONS FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION
- What did Jesus say about God’s provision? (Matthew 6:25-34)
- What command and promise do you find in Philippians 4:6-7?
- What two results of lack of contentment are found in the following passages?
- Proverbs 12:25
- Ecclesiastes 2:22
- How might your life choices reflect the fact that you are seeking the Kingdom first and are living in peace?
- What practical things can you begin to practice to learn the contentment that Paul expressed in Philippians 4:11-13?
DAY FOUR: THE CHRISTIAN LOOKS TO GODLY LEADERS.
READ: Hebrews 13:7-17
SPIRITUAL LEADERS MUST BE HONORED.
The religious lives of Christians are always under attack. God has given leadership authority in the church to help believers as they face adversity. These leaders must be given proper respect and honor. The Hebrew Christians are given three instructions to help them follow the right path as they move forward toward maturity.
1. Remember the early Christian leaders.
The author has previously pointed readers to the great list of heroes of the faith from the Old Testament. Now he tells them to remember the Christian leaders in their own experience who spoke the word of God to them.
- This could refer to the apostles and their first disciples who were eyewitnesses to Christ and who had been personally taught by Him. Their teaching and their lives were inspirational models for all future believers. Their writings form most of the New Testament.
- It could also mean their early teachers who laid the foundation for faith in their early school years or in their early lives as believers. We all need teachers who speak out and live out the Word of God. The only way we can guard against heresies is by the accurate knowledge of God’s Word. Christian leaders are now to be followed and imitated instead of disbelieving leaders in high places in Jerusalem.
2. Remember the eternal head of the church.
The true head of the church is Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Though human leaders are vital in God’s economy, they are human and are vulnerable to changing doctrines and false teaching. It is easy to be led astray. We can always trust the things Jesus said and did. We are warned many times in scripture about false teachers and false prophets. The words of Jesus will always be true. Measure all teaching against the very words of Jesus.
We need teachers but we must watch to see if the outcome of their way of life is in harmony with the teachings of Jesus. He is the savior and the High Priest forever. They must not turn back to their old laws and ceremonies and sacrifices and priesthood. These things were once and for all fulfilled by Jesus.
The Hebrew believers were being ridiculed and persecuted by Jews who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. It is time to leave the old ways and follow Jesus even if it means humiliation and suffering. The kinds of sacrifices that are now acceptable are:
- A sacrifice of praise – words that honor the Lord Jesus Christ
- A sacrifice of good works that meet the needs of people
- A sacrifice of sharing what they have with others in need
3. Respect the present leaders.
God has ordained roles and authority structures for all of the institutions in his economy – family, church, and state. Believers must submit to the church leaders and respect the offices they hold. These leaders of the church must give an account to God for the spiritual growth and purity of the local church. Likewise, we must give an account for our submission to their God-given authority.
The story of Christianity is like a relay race. Each new generation picks up the baton and builds on what others have contributed. When we become discouraged, we look back and become inspired by the great sacrifices and great efforts of those who have gone before. Far be it from us to drop the baton and hinder the race because of fear or distraction or suffering. Instead we should imitate the faith of these leaders as we move toward the eternal city that will be our ultimate home.
QUESTIONS FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION
- What two things are church leaders supposed to provide? (Hebrews 13:7)
- What is the purpose of God gifting specific leaders to serve in the church? (Ephesians 4:11-13)
- What warning does Paul give to believers in Colossians 2:8?
- What is meant by a sacrifice of praise mentioned in Hebrews 13:15?
- What sacrifice of sharing have you offered in the last week?
- What is something for which you could praise God this very day?
DAY FIVE: THE CHRISTIAN LEARNS TO BE A COOPERATIVE FOLLOWER.
READ: Hebrews 13:18-19
BELIEVERS MUST SUPPORT CHURCH LEADERS.
Being in a leadership role in a church is an awesome responsibility. Leaders are responsible for the spiritual feeding of the flock and the purity of the church body. Their goal is to help the believers to mature in Christ so they can be more effective in every way.
There are three areas in which leaders are especially vulnerable – (1) criticism from the people they are serving, (2) temptations to pride from their own egos, (3) temptation to moral sins coming from the great adversary of God. As the faithful flock of Jesus, we can help our leaders in all three areas.
- We can obey those who have rule over us – become cooperative, supportive and encouraging followers. This kind of behavior and attitude makes leadership a joy instead of a burden. (Hebrews 13:7). To refuse to become a good follower makes leadership more difficult and actually hinders our own spiritual growth, which should be the goal of every member of the body. It is to the advantage of both the leader and the follower to function well in their roles.
- We can respect our leaders but not place them on a pedestal. Treat them as equal brothers and sisters with the same value and the same accountability as all others. Pray that God will deal with their pride if they become puffed up or overbearing.
- We can pray regularly for our leaders. This is a sacrifice that is pleasing to God and necessary for the protection of their moral lives and for the successful overcoming of obstacles that are always present. Every ministry moves forward with prayer.
The author of Hebrews has been careful to examine his own life and can say that he has a clear conscience. He has also examined his motives and can say that he sincerely desires to be honorable in every way. This kind of accountability to his readers is certainly admirable. It is discouraging and even heartbreaking to see Christian leaders fall into moral sin and bring reproach on the church as well as destroying their own work.
BELIEVERS MUST PRAY FOR CHURCH LEADERS.
As faithful followers, we need to:
- Pray for protection for our leaders in their private lives – that they may not be disqualified because of personal sin. (I Corinthians 9:27)
- Pray for specific requests for God’s enablement in their ministry needs so that obstacles can be removed and leaders are free to serve God successfully.
QUESTIONS FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION
- What was Paul’s instruction regarding church leaders? (I Timothy 5:17-19)
- What is one of the responsibilities of the church leaders? (Titus 1:9)
- Why do you think that Paul ended many of his letters with a request for prayer?
- Make a list of things to pray for our church leaders. Add this to your prayer journal along with regular prayers for family and friends.
- Make it a point to ask your leaders for prayer requests when you know they are struggling with difficult church issues.
It is a wonderful thing to think that God might honor us by adding our names to the list of faithful followers who stood strong against the odds to bring glory and reality to His name! We begin with showing His love to the brethren, strangers, prisoners and family. As we become content with whatever our lot in life may be, we daily become eager and loyal supporters of God’s appointed leaders and pray faithfully for them. As we mature, we are prepared for good works that He has prepared for us.
PRINCIPLE FOR THE WEEK:
God is faithful to equip us to grow up well and to prepare us for our lifework.
Walk with God in a new step of obedience this week. Cooperate with His growth plan for you. Remember to pray for your church leaders.
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