As people receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, we are to offer to God acceptable worship. But is that just something we do for a couple hours on Sunday? In this passage we see that it is not, but that a life of worship also comes out in how we treat one another, how we treat marriage, and how we treat money.


Hebrews 13:1-6

Hebrews 9-13 (WBC)William Lane

Hebrews: Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary, Thomas Schreiner

Hebrews, John Owen

Sermon Transcript

I work full-time as a pastor and one of the fun questions I occasionally get from people is, “So what do you do all week?” I suppose it’s obvious to people that I preach these sermons and help run these services, but what about the rest of the week? What if we were to generalize that question a bit further, though? Many of you here today are Christians, many are even members of this church. That’s why you’re here for this hour and a half or so. But what do you do the rest of the week, as Christians? Is the difference between a Christian and someone else reducible to what a Christian does with a couple hours on a Sunday morning, or does Christian faith compel us to live differently the rest of the week as well? This morning we’re almost at the end of our series of sermons through the book of Hebrews as we enter the last chapter, chapter 13. We left off last week at the end of chapter 12 with these words: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” There you have it: What should we do given that we have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken? We should offer to God acceptable worship, and that’s what we have gathered this morning to do. Yes and amen. And yet, we aren’t yet finished with this series through Hebrews, because Hebrews didn’t end there. There is a chapter 13 because to offer to God acceptable worship is not something that can be confined to a couple hours on Sunday morning. Instead, in chapter 13 we see that the proper response to what God has done for you is to let your life be one of acceptable worship to God and we’ll start seeing what that looks like in verse 1-6. What do you do all week as a Christian? You offer your entire life to God as your acceptable worship of him, and that comes out in three ways in these first 6 verses: How you treat one another, how you treat marriage, and how you treat money.


How you treat one another


Our passage begins in verse 1 with this simple command: Let brotherly love continue. The word translated “brotherly love” there in verse 1 is just one word, the Greek word philadelphia. The Greek word philo means love and the Greek word adelphoi is the word for a brother; when you put them together, you get philadelphia, or brotherly love, and hence the city in which we live on earth is known as the city of brotherly love. Well, verse 1 of Hebrews 13 is saying that every Christian church ought to be a city of brotherly love within the earthly city in which it finds itself. Citylight Church Center City, Greater Exodus Baptist Church, Epiphany Fellowship, Christ Church South Philly, are meant to be a city of brotherly love within the city of Philadelphia.


And, praise God, this brotherly love did characterize the Hebrews. In 6:10 our author assured them that “God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” In chapter 10 he told them to “recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison” (v. 32-34). They served the saints. They partnered with those who were publicly exposed to reproach and affliction for their faith in Christ, and even with those who were imprisoned. Now our author tells them, “Let that kind of love continue.”


This is the kind of love that siblings show to one another, at least in a healthy family. I understand not all of you in the room today have siblings, but many of you do. I want you to imagine one of your siblings. What would you do if one of them was publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, like let’s say you heard someone talking negatively about them? Maybe if they had truly done something truly awful you wouldn’t resist it, but wouldn’t some part of you generally feel an impulse to defend them? Wouldn’t you feel that all the more if you knew they were suffering for righteousness’ sake, that the things being said about them were unfair or untrue? Any decent brother or sister would do that for his or her brother or sister, and they recognized that in the ancient world; it’s part of why the term philadelphia existed. It was expected that a brother should love his brother or sister and a sister her brother or sister.


And the Bible shares that expectation. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” So the love to which God calls Christians is not less than loving your immediate family, but it is more. What was unprecedented in the ancient world outside of the Bible was the application of philadelphia to people who were not your biological or adopted brother or sister. The idea that you should take the kind of love you have for a brother or sister and extend it out to the members of your church and other churches was weird at the time, yet that is what Christians did and what Christians are commanded to do here in verse 1. Typically siblings would occupy the same social class (especially in the ancient world where social mobility was less than what it is today), but Christians had brotherly love for one another across class lines. Typically siblings would be of the same ethnicity, but Christians had brotherly love for one another across ethnic lines.


Do you see what this means? It means if you want to live a life of acceptable worship to God, one of the main ways you do it is by how you treat one another. Any parent can attest to this. What pleases you in your kids? When I give my kid a command and he obeys it, that pleases me. If my kid tells me he loves me, that pleases me. But you know what really pleases me? When I see my son showing loving his brother. That’s what God is saying here. He’s saying if you want to serve me, if you want your life to be one of acceptable worship to me, love your fellow Christians. Of course, that doesn’t mean don’t love those who are not Christians. Jesus tells us to love even our enemies, but when the word philadelphia is used in the New Testament, it refers to Christians loving one another, because it is Christians, those who have been born again, who have been born again into a new family together. They don’t have a biological bond, but they do have a real spiritual bond that makes them a new family.


Again, the Hebrews had that kind of love for one another already, and I have seen you all loving one another in this way already. Yesterday I had the privilege of officiating the funeral of Jason Chang, the father of Steph Nguyen, a member of this church, and I saw more than 10 other members of this church not only at the funeral, but helping set up and clean up the reception. That’s the kind of thing a family typically does at a funeral, but they did it, and why? Because we are a family. I see brotherly love in you all, the author saw it in the Hebrews, but in verse 1 our author tells them to let it continue. Love is an inspiring, compelling idea. It’s the kind of thing you can get excited about when you hear a good sermon on it or perhaps when you are new to a church, but what happens in year 3 or 4 at that church when the initial excitement wears off and you start seeing more of the peoples’ flaws, and they start seeing yours? Let brotherly love continue. That doesn’t mean it would never be ok to leave a church and join another, but you should at least question the assumption that that’s the right decision when things get hard in your church, and if you find yourself making that decision again and again every 3-4 years, you should at least question the wisdom of that approach. At some point, you’ve just got to stay, and let brotherly love continue.


Verses 2-3 fill out for us a couple key examples of what such brotherly love looks like. First it tells us to not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware. Here the author refers to a couple stories in the Old Testament where some of God’s people were willing to feed and house strangers, and in so doing it turned out the strangers they were entertaining were angels, messengers from heaven who had taken on human form. Our author doesn’t mention that as if to say, “Hey, you never know. Maybe an angel will come to your house!” He’s more so pointing out what he said in chapter 11: God rewards those who seek him. Opening your home to someone you don’t know can be a scary thing, but our author reminds us here that God cares for those who do so. Instead of just thinking about the cost or even fear of having people into your home, this verse encourages us to think about how God might use it for good, even in unforeseen ways.


Especially in the context of persecution, Christians were often scattered from their home towns and found themselves strangers in a new place. Recall in chapter 10 how even some of the Hebrews joyfully accepted the plundering of their property. If your property were plundered for the cause of Christ, what might you need? A meal and a place to stay. It is the responsibility in such situations of other Christians who have food and shelter to provide it to such people. Again, consider what you’d do for a sibling: When my brother first moved to Philadelphia he didn’t have a place yet, and it wasn’t even a question what we’d do: He could stay with us until he found a place. When David Hong’s wife was still working in California and looking for a job in the area, it wasn’t even a question what David would do: He’d stay with Phil until his wife could find a job here. If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend coming to town to visit, don’t have them stay at your place. Ask literally any other member of the church of the same gender as your boyfriend or girlfriend to house them. You say, “Well but won’t it be weird? They don’t even know each other.” If they’re both Christians, it won’t be weird. They’ll talk about how God saved them, what they’re learning from God’s Word, how they’ve seen God answering their prayers recently, their favorite hymns, predestination, you name it. Do not neglect to show hospitality.


And, remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body, and the meaning there I think is more like, “as though you are in the body with them.” Again, we saw this already in chapter 10 when the Hebrews were said to have compassion on those in prison. Verse 3, much like verse 2, is not a blanket statement about all who are imprisoned anywhere for any reason. If someone commits murder and is convicted, they will likely be sentenced to prison, and there are estimated to be 180,000 people in the United States currently imprisoned for murder. Verse 3 doesn’t mean you need to go find all their names, pray for them, call them, visit them, etc. You might choose to do that to the glory of God, but the situation verse 3 more so has in mind is when one of your brothers or sisters in Christ is imprisoned unjustly, especially for their faith in Christ. In the ancient world there is some evidence that such prisoners were dependent on outside support for the provision of their food while in prison. Obviously we could also imagine ways they’d be tempted to question God and even drift from him if imprisoned unjustly or for the sake of his name, and so they still need Christian fellowship and encouragement.


It is hard to imagine a perfectly analogous situation for the Christians in this church today, though maybe a day will come soon when Christians will be imprisoned in America for their fidelity to Christ. Certainly we should be ready for that and willing both to be imprisoned ourselves and to visit any brothers and sisters who are so imprisoned. But we should also recognize that we do have brothers and sisters throughout the world who are imprisoned and even face the threat of death for their faith in Christ. At a minimum we should be regular in prayer for them, and consider ways we could do good to them. We should “remember them,” as the text says. But a more likely scenario for us in Philadelphia today might be one in which a Christian brother or sister is being sued for doing something Jesus commands or refusing to say something Jesus forbids, or perhaps where they are simply facing ridicule or threats. In such situations, we want to remember them as though we ourselves were facing the same things. It’s a very practical approach: Literally think if I were in that same position, what would I reasonably want my church family to do for me? That’s what we should do for them. That’s what we’d do for a brother or sister. If you want your whole life to be one of acceptable worship to God, the first way that comes out is in how you treat one another: Let brotherly love continue. And the next way it comes out is in how you treat marriage.


How you treat marriage


Verse 4 tells us to “let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.” This is one of the verses we reference in our Church Covenant when we commit to “hold marriage in honor”. Notice that the text says marriage should be held in honor among all, not just among those who are married. Whether single, married, divorced, widowed, or some combination thereof, if you want to live a life of acceptable worship to God, you must hold marriage in honor. What does that mean? Well, let’s start with what it does not mean: It does not mean seeking marriage above all else, or worshiping your spouse above all else. There is an honor of which marriage is unworthy. We are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and we are to worship and serve God alone.


So don’t worship marriage, but do hold marriage in honor. Ok, still, what does that mean? First, it means recognizing marriage as a divine institution, part of God’s very good creation, and not merely as some kind of social construct. Marriage is not ultimate, but it is good. When God made the first man he said that it was not good for him to be alone, and so made a helper suitable for him, and after bringing them together said that a man should leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two should become one flesh (Gen 2:18-24). In other words, God did not bring Adam and Eve together just for their own sakes, but he did so as a model of what should happen among humans in subsequent generations. In marriage, a man glues his entire self to his wife, and Jesus’ conclusion from that is that what God has joined together, no man should separate (Matt 19:6).


That doesn’t mean every individual Christian must get married; it takes two to tango, and it just may be that you haven’t yet found someone you want to marry who also wants to marry you. Furthermore, the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 talks about the unique opportunities the single life provides to be anxious for the things of the Lord, how to please him, because you are not simultaneously thinking about how to please a husband or wife. Paul and more importantly Jesus Christ lived abundant lives that were pleasing to God without ever getting married, and you can too insofar as you use your singleness to serve the Lord. But both Paul and Jesus held marriage in honor. Jesus attended a wedding, provided wine for it, and in the words I already quoted said that what God has joined together in marriage no one should separate. Paul, in the same chapter in which he extols the blessings of singleness, still says it is better to marry than to burn with passion, still commands husbands to give to their wives their conjugal rights, and likewise wives to their husbands, and elsewhere goes so far as to say that the relationship between husband and wife refers to the relationship between Christ and his church.


So we hold marriage in honor first by recognizing it as a good divine institution in which one man and one woman give their entire selves to one another in a covenant intended to last as long as both of them live. I understand defining it that way is culturally unpopular, but since it is a divine institution, we dishonor it and disobey verse 4 if we try to redefine it and apply it to any other sort of union. How else do we hold marriage in honor, though? We hold marriage in honor by abstaining from all sexual activity outside of it. We hold marriage in honor by celebrating and supporting the marriages of others. If you are single and don’t want to remain that way, you honor marriage by not merely dating indefinitely or staying engaged for years, but seeking to enter into the publicly accountable covenant of marriage with a particular person of the opposite sex. You may use dating as a means to that end, but keep marriage in view as the end if you want to hold it in honor. And if you find that you are regularly struggling with sexual sin, you honor marriage in part by seeking to move toward it, rather than indefinitely burning with passion. If you want to honor marriage, you also won’t enter into it lightly, but with a sense of the seriousness such a commitment entails.


And if you are married, you hold marriage in honor by giving it its proper priority. I say proper priority because remember that it is not God. If you can get to date night every week but not to church, your priorities are off. But if you seem to have time for everyone in the church except your spouse, that also demonstrates a failure to prioritize. If you are married, the first commandment is the same for you as for anyone else: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and so is the second: Love your neighbor as yourself, and the first neighbor whom you are to love is your spouse. Does the way you treat your husband or wife indicate that he or she is the first neighbor you love? The part of that that is highlighted here in verse 4 is to keep the marriage bed undefiled.


That word for “marriage bed” is not a reference to a literal bed. The Greek word there is actually coitus, a word we now use simply to refer to sexual intercourse, though here it refers specifically to sexual intercourse between a husband and wife. One of the key ways any of you hold marriage in honor, single or not, then, is by not inserting yourself into a marriage bed in which you do not belong. If you are married, it means giving yourself sexually to your spouse and to no other. It is worth noticing that the marriage bed is not inherently defiled by the existence of sex; there is a way to keep it undefiled. Sometimes people get the mistaken idea that Christianity is anti-sex, but that’s simply not the case. God created the first humans, before sin entered the world, with a desire for sex, what we commonly call a sex drive. And what that desire was designed by God to do was drive each human out of themselves toward another of the opposite sex in the covenant of marriage. A man feels that desire, and what did God want him to do with it? Leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife. Get out of himself and toward his wife in such a way that would increase not only his joy, but hers, and potentially even produce more life in the form of children: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). But what has sin done to us? It hasn’t removed that creational desire; that’s not what sin does. Instead, it’s perverted it. It’s taken that desire that was designed to go outward and bent it back in on ourselves, so that now we instinctively ask not so much how we can give ourselves to a spouse, but how we can take pleasure for ourselves from sex. So, for example, instead of doing the hard work of loving a wife, giving yourself up for her, and producing more life together, sin disposes a man to use a screen to please only himself.


If you want to live a life of acceptable worship to God, don’t do that. Why? Because, verse 4: God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. In other words, God cares about how you treat marriage. Every now and then when I talk about sexual sin I get a question like this: “Do we really have to talk about this so much? Isn’t God more concerned about how we love the least of these than about who we have sex with? Shouldn’t we be showing the world our love more than we are condemning the world for who they choose to love or how they choose to love?” And on one level, I get it: It is possible for Christians to rail on the sexual sin of “the culture” while neglecting things like brotherly love or showing hospitality to strangers. There are Christians and churches who do that and shouldn’t. But just as I would tell them you can’t pick one and not the other, that’s what I want to say to you who would ask that question. You’re really doing the same thing they’re doing, you’re just picking a different element of what God requires to emphasize and a different element to ignore, and you’re probably each doing it because the local culture in which you find yourself celebrates one and opposes the other. The “progressive” Christian living in Philadelphia can be just as controlled by the unbelieving world around them in the city as the “conservative” Christian is by the unbelieving world around them in the small town.


The Bible itself doesn’t do that though. Hebrews 13 doesn’t do that even. It doesn’t say, “Well as long as you hold marriage in honor who cares how you treat one another?” nor does it say, “Well as long as you let brotherly love continue who cares who you sleep with?” No; verse 4 says God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Adultery is sexual activity between a married person and someone to whom they are not married, but sexual immorality is broader: It’s any kind of activity that could cause an orgasm with someone to whom you are not married. God cares about that so much that he will judge those who engage in it without repentance. The sexually immoral and the adulterous are not those who are fighting tooth and nail against the sin that remains in them and occasionally losing. The sexually immoral and the adulterous are those who have given in to those sins in such a way that they go on doing them deliberately, and make no mistake about what verse 4 is saying: It means God will condemn them eternally to hell for it. We have to talk about this because God talks about it; we have to care about this because God cares about it. If you want to live a life of acceptable worship to God, hold marriage in honor. How you treat marriage matters. And lastly, let’s look at how you treat money if you want to live a life of acceptable worship to God.


How you treat money


How do you treat money if you want to live a life of acceptable worship to God? Verse 5: You keep your life free from the love of it, and you are content with what you have. Our passage began with what we should love: Our brothers and sisters. Now here’s what we shouldn’t love: money. The ancient church father Augustine said there are things we were created to love, and things we were created to use. People we were created to love, money we were created to use in service of that which we love, and yet under sin, isn’t it often just the opposite? We use people to get money instead of using money to serve people. My wife does the grocery shopping in our family and I keep an eye on our budget. One month recently I was looking at the spending and noticed that we’d overspent slightly on food that month. Me being the godly husband I am, I automatically start thinking how my wife must have made some irresponsible purchases at the grocery store, but when I talked to her about it, she reminded me that we’d had a number of people over for dinner that month. If you do not neglect to show hospitality, you will quickly learn that it costs money. If remembering those in prison meant subsidizing their food, what would that cost? Money. And so the love of money runs counter to brotherly love. Not only that, but it runs counter to offering to God acceptable worship. The love of money makes money your god. Jesus himself said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt 6:24).


What’s the opposite of the love of money? Liquidating all your assets? Not necessarily. Look at verse 5: Be content with what you have. I know very little about the net worth of anyone in this room, but I do know this: You all have something, even if it’s just the shirt on your back. And you should be content with it. That means rejoicing in the Lord right now, even if you never get more money, it means never sinning to get more money, and it means you will love your brothers and sisters in Christ, even though doing so will cost money.


Where do you get that kind of contentment? Verse 5 tells us: For he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Now how is that a comfort if you’re worried about money? Wouldn’t you expect the verse to say, “I will always make sure you have enough money”? But God knows better: He knows we generally love money because it makes us feel secure. We look into our future, we see all the ways things can go wrong, but do you know what would help us have more peace about it? A million dollars in the bank. I mean, what worry could that not address? Maybe you fear losing your job, but if you have money in the bank, that’s no big deal. Maybe you fear health issues for you or your loved ones, but if you have money in the bank, you should be able to afford the best medical care, and we’re smart enough to heal everything at this point, right? Maybe you fear a car accident, or identity theft, or a house fire, but if you have money, you can get insurance to cover all that! Maybe you fear crime, but with enough money you can move somewhere safer! That all sounds like a nice, secure life money can buy you.


Except, of course, we aren’t smart enough to heal every disease. Your car insurance may cover your totaled car, but it can’t fix a broken bone. You can buy life insurance, but no amount of money can save you or the people you love from death. So if the passage said, “Be content with what you have, for God will make sure you have enough money,” would that really help? No; instead it offers us a better security: God himself. He has promised that he will never leave you; he will never forsake you. As our song puts it, “That soul though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never, forsake.”


Therefore, verse 6, here’s what we can confidently say: The Lord is my helper, I will not fear, what can man do to me? Well, man can do a lot to us, and our passage has alluded to some of it: Man can imprison us, man can mistreat us, man can plunder our property, man can take our money, but no man can make God leave or forsake us. And we know that because if God were to leave or forsake us, the easiest time for him to do it would have been when we had sinned against him. I mentioned earlier that God gave humans a sex drive to drive them toward a particular spouse, that they might give love to another and produce more life. That’s the basic orientation with which God created us: Outward and upward. God created us for an expansive happiness to be found in offering to him acceptable worship, with reverence and awe and in ongoing brotherly love for others. Why has God given us homes? To show hospitality. Why has God given us money? To be rich in good works. And yet what have we done? We’ve taken all that energy, all that strength, all these resources that God has given us, and instead of letting them flow out from us in worship of him and love of others, we’ve sucked them back in to ourselves. If there was ever a time God would have been totally justified in leaving or forsaking us, it was when we were still doing that. He would have justifiably been able to say, “Ok; you want to stick to yourself. Fine. I’ll withdraw my love from you and stick to myself.”


But what did he do instead? He came even closer to us. He gave even more of himself for us. He came so close to us that he became one of us, taking on human flesh, that he might love us with a truly brotherly love. God was so committed to never leaving nor forsaking us that on the cross Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He went through what we deserved so that we could join him in inheriting the promise he deserved: I will never leave you nor forsake you. What could man do to him? They killed him, but God raised him, and now God promises that he will never leave nor forsake anyone who comes to him through faith in Christ. Even today, even with the sin that remains in us, even though our brotherly love is often cold, the brotherly love of Jesus continues. Turn from your selfishness, trust in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and he will begin to open you up again, to point you back upward and outward by his Spirit. He’ll open you back up to God, to offer to him acceptable worship, and he will open you back up to your neighbor, to let brotherly love continue, to hold marriage in honor, and to use money to love people rather than loving money itself.