The Christian’s Commitment Hebrews 13:1–6
To this point, the book of Hebrews has stressed the superiority of Christ, while exhorting believers not to leave the church because of persecution but to go on to Christian maturity.
In chapter 13, the book abruptly shifts to moral and ethical issues of the Christian life and exhorts believers to walk their talk: What you claim to believe about God should be evident in your daily relationships with believers and nonbelievers alike. Warren Wiersbe said it well: “There is no division between doctrine and duty, revelation and responsibility. The two always go together.”1
The first six verses of chapter 13 contain moral exhortations concerning living the Christian faith. Since no connectives link to the preceding material, each exhortation stands on its own as an individual command.
First, believers are to show fellow Christians love: “Let brotherly love continue” (13:1). This command acknowledges that such love existed among these Christians, and it admonished them not to let it grow cold. The Greek word for “brotherly love,” philadelphia, refers to showing affection and fondness for fellow believers by offering them kindness and sympathy and helping to meet their needs. Such love binds the body of Christ together in an unbreakable union of deep, heart-felt affection that is nurtured over time and prompts believers to look after one another:
The word “brother” in the Greek, adelphos, means “from the same womb.” Thus, the basis of their Christian fondness and affection for each other, the source of their Christian fellowship, was the fact that they all came from the same source, having one Father, God.2
Christians are commanded to continue showing this type of love. Love is foundational to everything in the family and fellowship of the church (cf. Jn. 13:34–35; 1 Cor. 13; 1 Th. 4:9; 1 Jn. 3:14; Rev. 2:1–7). Love was present, but persecution was causing it to wane (cf. Rev. 2:1–7). The exhortation spoke to those who had grown cold and indifferent to their Christian brethren and were considering leaving the church and returning to Judaism.
When love within the church starts to disappear, the fellowship weakens. This command to love is an ever-needful reminder to the church, especially with the schisms and splits erupting within many churches today.
Second, Scripture says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Heb. 13:2). The word entertain (Greek, philoxenia) is better translated “love of strangers.” Though it connotes showing love to all people and receiving them with fraternal friendliness, it especially entails loving the brethren by opening one’s heart and home and providing resources to help when needed.
Hospitality was essential in the first century because travelers usually were unfamiliar with areas far from home. Since there were no hotels then, they frequented inns that were limited, expensive, often rowdy, and sometimes abusive and hostile to strangers—not places where Christians would feel comfortable.
Due to persecution, many believers had fled their homes, leaving every-thing behind to become wanderers until they found a place to resettle. Such “strangers” were in great need of Christian hospitality.
Lodging travelers (especially preachers) was an expected, needful, and common practice. These brethren needed safety, shelter, and food for themselves and their animals, as well as information or help. Bishops and church leaders were expected to show hospitality (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:8). Godly women were praised for lodging strangers (1 Tim. 5:10).
This command is couched in language that suggests some Christians were refusing to welcome strangers. The apostle Peter commanded that hospitality be shown “to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9). The apostle John praised Gaius for how he received strangers (3 Jn. 5–8). There is one exception: Christians are explicitly told not to greet or receive into their home false teachers who do not abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9–11).
Some who welcomed strangers did not know they were entertaining angels (Heb. 13:2). This text gives no specific example, but the Old Testament provides a number of illustrations where God’s people entertained angels. For example, Abraham (Gen. 18:1–8 ) and Lot (19:1–3) entertained the angels who came to announce Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction. Gideon entertained the Angel of the Lord when he was commissioned to deliver Israel from the Midianites (Jud. 6:11–24). Zorah, Manoah’s husband, entertained the Angel of the Lord when He came to announce she would give birth to Samson (13:3–20). We should never expect to entertain angels, but it may sometimes happen; and we never know how doing so will impact our lives. Jesus revealed that ministering to strangers, especially His Jewish brethren, was the same as ministering to Him (Mt. 25:35–40).
Third, we are to remember to sympathize with suffering saints: “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also” (Heb. 13:3). This verse refers to believers incarcerated and suffering physically and mentally because they confessed Christ as Savior. Many would be crucified, burned at the stake, killed in the Roman arena, or be impaled on stakes and set on fire to become living torches at Emperor Nero’s garden parties.
Those not imprisoned were told to view themselves as suffering along with their brethren “as if chained with them” because of their bonds through faith in Christ. Though free, they, too, could someday be subject to the same inhumane fate. So Christians should see themselves as being imprisoned with their fellow believers, as if their own bodies were receiving the same treatment (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26; Gal. 6:2; Col. 4:18). This was a sober exhortation to motivate Christians to sympathize with their suffering brethren.
Couples are commanded to practice sexual sanctity in marriage: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4). A better translation is, “Let marriage by all be respected, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for the sexually immoral and adulterers God will judge.” This is an exhortation to honor marriage as precious and highly esteemed.
Scripture cites two abuses to marriage: (1) false teachers who forbid Christians to marry (1 Tim. 4:3) and (2) fornication and adultery. The word bed (Greek, koite) is used of a married couple and emphasizes keeping the sexual relationship pure. The word undefiled refers to any moral impurity, uncleanness, or defilement. In context, it refers to adultery and sexual immorality; that is, refraining from “fornication” (Greek, pornoi), sexual immorality, or adultery. Fornication dishonors a marriage before it takes place, and adultery defiles and dishonors a marriage after it is consummated. “God will judge” and condemn such actions, even if society accepts and condones them.
Christians are to be satisfied with their material state in life:
Let your conduct [manner of life] be without covetousness [i.e., love of money]; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The Lᴏʀᴅ is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:5–6).
This passage issues a strong warning against loving money. Believers are commanded to be content with what they have, no matter what their state in life. Most likely, persecution and deprivation had caused some to grumble and covet (cf. 10:32–34).
Covetousness is defined as an inordinate desire or craving for wealth and possessions or the greedy desire to acquire the possessions of another. Scripture is full of illustrations on how greed and covetousness caused men to compromise their commitments to God (Achan, Josh. 7:1, 5, 26; Gehazi, 2 Ki. 5:15–27; Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1–10). Scripture condemns covetousness and the love of money and continually warns Christians to guard against such cravings (cf. Mt. 6:24; 1 Tim. 6:8–10).
Believers today live in a materialistic society and can easily succumb to the belief that wealth and possessions produce inner peace and lasting satisfaction. However, the apostle Paul said Christians should be content with their situations, and God will supply all they need according to His riches in glory through Christ (Phil. 4:12, 19).
Two great encouragements are given to believers, both quotations from the Old Testament. First, “For He Himself [God the Father] has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5). This promise is quoted twice in the Old Testament: once to Israel and Joshua when Moses commissioned Joshua to lead the nation into the Land of Promise (Dt. 31:6, 8) and again when King David commissioned his son Solomon to build the Temple (1 Chr. 28:20).
Security is not found in money or material possessions, but rather in God’s personal promise and faithfulness never to fail or forsake believers under any condition. The Lord will never abandon, desert, or leave you alone if you belong to Him.
Second, because of God’s faithfulness, “We may boldly say: ‘The Lᴏʀᴅ is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:6; quoted from the Septuagint translation of Psalm 118:6). The word we links the author with his readers and expresses bold confidence in God meeting their needs.
Believers should have bold confidence because the Lord is with us to help us in every circumstance. We should have no fear because God is our Helper; man can do nothing to us unless God allows it. Knowing all these things, Christians should face life’s challenges with confidence and courage and trust in God’s help.
- Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, 2nd ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2007), 842. Previously published as The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1989).
- Kenneth S. Wuest, “Heb. 12:28—13:2,” Wuest’s Word Studies From the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), Logos Bible Software edition.