A Current Bible Study:
Hebrews 13
"Faith's Purpose" 

     Paul's letter to the Hebrews closes with this very significant chapter. The entire letter deals with faith. In Hebrews 11 we find what has been called by many the great "Faith Chapter." That chapter begins with what I call my life verse:
Hebrews 11:1- "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
I have been drawn back to this verse many times and it both challenges and comforts me. The truth is, of course, beloved, that all the verses of the Bible are life verses in that they show us how to live.

     I want to start this study back in chapter 12 of Hebrews where Paul has just laid out the Lord's eternal scenario for man and the earth. Let's listen to the Word of God:
Hebrews 12: 25-29- "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth (I believe he is speaking of Moses, pleading to the people of God in the Old Testament), much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven (The Lord): Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire."
     Saving faith in Christ, a gift that God provides those who seek it wholeheartedly (see Ephesians 2:8-9), delivers us from this "shaking" that is to come. This is being SAVED. Faith reconciles us to God and promises us a blessed place in eternity. I have heard preachers sometimes refer to this as vertical faith or obtaining peace with God. Cynics (including me, before I experienced it!) have written faith and salvation off as a sort of crazy cosmic fire insurance. As Christians today, we can easily make faith a distant abstraction, an eschatological fascination. The Devil encourages this approach to faith, for though he cannot alter our eternal destiny, he can make faith seem irrelevant in day to day living. But friend, in Hebrews 13 Paul is going to remind us that faith also functions in this present life. Faith is as relevant today, right this second, as it will ever be in our eternity. And here's why, because God commands us to...

Verse 1: "Let brotherly love continue."
    This sounds too easy, but it is in fact impossible to sustain God's love for others without a very present and active faith. What is in view now has been called horizontal faith! Every day that you and I are allowed to stay on the earth, this kind of faith is the Lord's purpose and will for us. Now I must pause here and be honest, and confess to you and to God that I don't always love others. And it's because, even though I have faith in my eternal salvation, and I believe in Heaven, and I know that the blood of Jesus has washed my sins away, I oft' times struggle to have enough faith, to trust God enough, to stop worrying about my life down here and start looking out for other people. You see, to truly love your brother, you need more than just peace with God. You need the peace of God in your heart moment by moment.
     Remember now, this is the Word of the Lord. It's not my standard, and as I've already said, and it hurts to me say it, my faith often falls short. But Paul's message to the Hebrews, here in his closing chapter and summation, gives me hope and direction. He lists some of the characteristics of horizontal faith in action in verses 2-6. I take these to be goals:

Verse 2: Hospitality
"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."  It takes faith to be friendly and open to outsiders. The world can fake this, but not sustain it.

Verse 3: Compassion

"Remember them that are in bonds, as bond with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body."  We must identify with the prisoner and the patient today. This Spirit led Jesus to the Cross, even though He had no sins of His own to pay for.

Verse 4: Selflessness

"Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." It takes faith to put your intimate personal life in the Lord's hands for the benefit of a child, a spouse, a family.

Verse 5: Selflessness

"Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,"
Greed can easily consume all one's time and energy, and that's not faith.

Verse 6: Courage

"So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." Self-confidence will ultimately fail (man, I know that's true). Faith in God is the "real deal."

     Next, Paul has a word especially for believers. We must not only love the stranger, the sick, and the lost ones, what about our pastor? How about those we worship the Lord with? We need to have a special bond, and extra love for each other, while not making others outsiders (see Romans 12:10). Some people today believe that somehow we can just be "nice" without faith in Christ. But this isn't the example Christ set. He wasn't just nice to me, through faith He died for me. And now some of that burden falls on me as I live the new life He gave me. The Apostle John said it this way in I John 3:16- "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."  That's why we need faith in the Church today!
Verses 7-9- "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein." These believers back in Paul's time were tempted to return to faith in the Old Covenant with its animal sacrifices and ceremonial rituals. We can also get distracted from Christ in the Church today, by many other things. But faith in anything else, even religion, is ineffective for living, and Paul knew it:
Verse 10- "We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle (Old Covenant Worship)." The New Covenant is so superior to anything else, that faith in ANYTHING else is equivalent to no faith at all.

     Now, beloved, as you let that sink in, I want you to listen as Paul begins to summarize:
Verses 11-14- "For the bodies of those beasts (Old Covenant sacrifices) whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.
     We must employ our faith in loving God and trusting in Heaven, yes, but the calling on our daily lives is so intense it demands an equal amount of faith every day. We can't just be nice, we can't even just preach or prophesy. We must leave the confine of our comforts and extend ourselves beyond ourselves for others. Jesus did that by faith.  It wasn't His great preaching that reached me. It wasn't His miraculous prophecies. It was His blood. That's how I know He loves you and me. We are not the Messiah, friend, and never could be, but God expects us to go way beyond anything we can do without faith. He won't settle for less.

     In verses 17 to the end, Paul closes with sincere sentiments and blessings for the Hebrews. Read that first and then come back, if you will, to verses 15 and 16 where we will close. I believe that here Paul juxtaposes both vertical and horizontal faith one last time so we will remember that they need to work equally together. They give the Christian life balance. Certainly we should be longing for the day when we will be with God in Heaven, that's essential and shows our love for the Lord, but when we apply our faith and trust now to love other people, we are already with Him. It is taught elsewhere that when  horizontal faith is willfully absent, the existence of any faith at all is called into question (see I John 3:10). Both are needed. Both bring balance. TOGETHER they keep us in God's will:

Vertical Faith
Verse 15- "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name."

Horizontal Faith

Verse 16- "But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." 

May Jesus Christ richly bless you-JKD 6/26/03

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