Final Instructions: Love, Marriage, and Money
Final Instructions: Love, Marriage, and Money
Main Idea: Believers are to show brotherly love, to hold marriage in high honor, and to guard their hearts from the love of money.
- Love toward Saints: Enduring in Brotherly Affection (13:1)
- Love toward Strangers: Showing Hospitality (13:2)
- Love toward Prisoners: Remembering the Imprisoned and Mistreated (13:3)
- Hold Marriage in Honor (13:4)
- Hold Money Loosely (13:5-6)
I love reading letters. As a matter of fact, whenever I see a compendium of letters published by a major figure, I usually buy it. Reading letters reminds me that people used to write letters and that there was a time when personal and practical communication was accomplished by snail mail. This is the kind of communication we have in Hebrews 13.
In some ways the ending of Hebrews is similar to the ending of Romans. It’s difficult to overestimate that letter’s doctrinal and biblical engagement with the Old Testament as it lays out the gospel. Its ending, particularly chapter 16, reminds us that Romans isn’t just a theological treatise; it’s a letter to a congregation of actual people. Paul’s conclusions demonstrate that he wrote his letters to actual people in real circumstances. Likewise, the author of Hebrews concludes his letter with personal and practical concerns in order to encourage people in the faith and exhort them to grow in holiness.
Before diving in, we should review what the author has just finished saying. Hebrews 12 concludes the great warning passage that began in chapter 10. The author explains what it means to be citizens of a heavenly kingdom, a kingdom that cannot be shaken. He closes the chapter by writing, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe.” In this last chapter the author tells us how to do that very thing.
Love toward Saints: Enduring in Brotherly Affection
Hebrews 13:1 signals to us that a major shift between the old covenant and the new has occurred. In the old covenant, a sharp distinction existed between the chosen nation of Israel and all other peoples. This distinction was even on display within the temple itself. The temple was where God did business with his people. In order to enter the court of Israel, one had to be a Jew. And of course, not just any Jew could enter it—only one Jewish man could, the chief priest. For this reason, the word brotherly should stick out to us. It raises the question, Who is my brother? Our “brother” is anyone who is in Christ.
The word brotherly is revolutionary because it speaks to the relationship Christians have with one another. This love is a familial relationship unbelievers cannot understand. The world talks about the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God, but it doesn’t really believe in God as Father, so it really has no concept of brotherhood. But Christians are joint heirs with Christ, and, by virtue of their union with him, are also sons and daughters of God. As such, we are brothers and sisters to one another. Faith in Christ makes us family. Thus, “let brotherly love continue” is a sweet exhortation. It insinuates that this distinct love is already there among the members of this congregation, so the plea is that it would continue.
Love toward Strangers: Showing Hospitality
In verse 2 the author teaches that this brotherly love should even extend beyond the church. We should also show hospitality and love to strangers because, astoundingly, some of those strangers are angels. We often do not know with whom we’re visiting. This is something we need to keep in mind, though it should not motivate our love. We simply do not know who we’re really seeing when we notice a beggar on the side of the road, or a person in the hospital without a visitor, or someone in prison. The person we see might not be who we think we are seeing. In any case, we must show those in our paths hospitality for the glory of God.
Hospitality is an important Christian gift. Sadly, it’s an often neglected one. Frankly, it’s an aspect of our Christian calling about which we can learn much from our non-Christian friends. For instance, Muslims and Mormons put an absolute premium on hospitality. I’ve yet to be in a Muslim home or institution where I was not offered rich hospitality. Nor have I met a Mormon who failed to go out of his or her way to show me a great measure of kindness. It’s to our shame as Christians that we fail to be hospitable. We are called to show hospitality to everyone, even to strangers.
Love toward Prisoners: Remembering the Imprisoned and Mistreated
Verse 3 addresses our responsibility to those in prison who are also part of the body of Christ. Here again, the church has often failed in its duty to care for the imprisoned. I’m personally thankful, among many other things, for Christians through the centuries who have given witness to Christ among prisoners. I’m thankful for their obedience to remember those who were in prison as though in prison with them. We ought to do the same. Some of my most meaningful moments in preaching have happened behind prison walls.
It’s helpful to place this exhortation in the historical context of ancient jails. In the first century, prisons were not places one was sent to for any length of time. Prison was a place where one was held for trial or for debts. If you were in prison, you were most likely there because of your failure to repay a significant debt. Jesus’s parables make this clear. You were more or less incarcerated until you could come up with enough money to buy your release. Otherwise, you would eventually be sold into slavery.
Hold Marriage in Honor
Hebrews 13:4 comments on a very practical issue: marriage. The exhortation that marriage should be “honored by all” is essential because it demonstrates that Christ’s people, where they are visible in the world, ought to be seen as a people who value marriage. Marriage isn’t an issue at the bottom of the priority list for Christians, nor is it merely a secondary or tertiary issue. Instead, marriage is high on the list. “Marriage is to be honored by all” is a particularly comprehensive statement. It doesn’t say, “Do not commit adultery.” Rather, it’s a positive statement. Christians should give public, visible honor and private, personal honor to marriage as the monogamous union of a man and a woman.
The writer gives a second related instruction: “the marriage bed [is to be] kept undefiled.” A great deal of commentary is not necessary for that statement. It’s clear the author has sexual defilement in mind because of what he says next: “because God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers.” Sexually immoral is a broader category that encompasses adultery. Many Christians get issues of sexual morality right in terms of a checklist but wrong in terms of understanding. The Bible does not have a “yes” list and a “no” list when it comes to sexuality. There’s no “allowed” list or “prohibited” list. Instead, the Bible teaches that sexual morality—in all of its aspects and manifestations—comes down to one central thing: sex belongs in marriage and nowhere else.
This is a radical statement to make in today’s world, but it’s deeply biblical. Scripture recognizes sex within marriage as something good and worthy of celebration. If we had a checklist on sexual morality, sex within marriage would be on the “yes” list. But everything else would be on the “no” list because every form of sex outside of marriage subverts and dishonors marriage. Any form of sex outside the marriage covenant, including adultery, is an affront to God’s gift of marriage and is therefore deserving of God’s judgment.
Hold Money Loosely
The author’s exhortation in Hebrews 13:5 is a call to live out the tenth commandment. Of the Ten Commandments, the tenth—do not covet—is perhaps the most difficult for us to fully comprehend, even though it tells us specifically what we should avoid coveting: our neighbor’s wife, our neighbor’s animals, or our neighbor’s belongings. But today’s entire commercial economy is built on a foundation that not only encourages us to have what we want, but to want what we don’t have. We live in a society and operate within an economy of covetousness. As a result, it’s a difficult thing to live free from want and free from a love of the money that can give us what we want. Nevertheless, this is exactly how Hebrews 13:5-6 tells us to live.
Verse 5 is not saying money is the problem. Instead, it warns against the love of money. Related to this first exhortation is the exhortation to be satisfied with what we have. In saying this, the author is not instructing his readers to stop working and simply live with what they have. Scripture comprehensively lays out the importance of thrift, labor, investment, and savings. God’s Word gives us a rich economic tapestry, but this verse tells us to be content with what we have. Hebrews isn’t giving us an economic philosophy; it’s giving us a spiritual principle by which to live.
The second half of verse 5 and all of verse 6 tell us why we can be content with what we have. The source of our contentment is not the security and comfort we get from owning enough things; it’s that we serve a God who takes care of us. We serve a God who will never leave or forsake us. God himself has promised.
In verse 6 the writer evaluates God’s statement and applies it in a pointed way: “Therefore, we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” This is an important Christian confession and reflects the same confidence in God’s abiding character that the apostle Paul displays in Romans 8:31-39. It’s good to ask ourselves these questions and to remember that nothing overly tragic can happen to us. We can lose everything we have, and it will be okay so long as we endure in the faith. I admit this is easy to say and a much harder thing to actually live out. But everything that can be taken away from us will be taken away from us one day. Nevertheless, we have everything we need in Christ, and we can be content because we serve a God who cares for us. The Lord is on our side.
Reflect and Discuss
- Why is it important to remember that the book of Hebrews is a letter written to a congregation of individuals? How does thinking of Hebrews as a letter affect the way you approach this final chapter? What about the book as a whole?
- What’s unique about “brotherly love”? What does it teach us about the shift in the covenants? What makes brotherly love a distinctly Christian love?
- How is showing hospitality a way of showing love? How can you show “brotherly love” or love toward strangers through hospitality?
- Which people in your life have shown you particularly great hospitality? Why do you think some cultures (e.g., Muslim, Middle Eastern, Mormon, Hispanic) tend to be so hospitable? What can we learn from them?
- Hebrews 13:3 commands us to remember. How is remembering a form of love? Who are some of the most often neglected and forgotten people in your life? What can you do to remind yourself of their situations so that you remember them in prayer or visit them?
- That the author chooses to write specifically on marriage at the end of his letter demonstrates the importance of the subject in his mind. In what ways are you tempted—through your comments, thoughts, attitudes, or behaviors—to dishonor and defile marriage? In what ways does our culture promote the dishonor and defilement of marriage? Why does marriage matter to God?
- Why is it important to present the biblical commands regarding marriage and sexuality in a positive form (“Do this”) rather than always in a negative form (“Don’t do this”)?
- List some practical ways to keep ourselves free from the love of money when we have a surplus of money. How can we keep the right perspective on money when we experience shortages?
- What does it look like to be content with what you have? In what circumstances do you find it difficult to be content? How can we fight against our culture’s constant enticements toward covetousness?
- How does the gospel provide us with the motivation and the ability to keep ourselves from the love of money and to be content with what we have?