In the last couple of weeks the book of Hebrews has gotten real. With the verdict that came down from the supreme court, we recognize that the call to persevere in faith has been ratcheted up to another level.
As one pastor put it, the SCOTUS is never on the vanguard. It is always catching up. It is always behind the culture. We know that our culture has been following the gay agenda for quite a while and the supreme court is just now jumping on board with it.
So, there is a sense in which this decision tells us nothing new. But we can still say that things are different now. When something like this is codified—when leaders act to make it legal, it changes things.
We recognize that America is different now. The state religion has been further solidified. Secularism has gained another significant victory and further ensconced itself as the religion of the United States.
All that is to simply say that the book of Hebrews has gotten even more real. History shows us that all nations have state religions, and dissenters are not typically tolerated. So the call to persevere is all that much more important. Everything we’ve studied for the last nine months has become extremely important. And all that has transpired has made this passage all that much more relevant too.
The ending of epistles sometimes feel a little scatter brained. A lot of Bibles will have as a heading something like “Final remarks” because they find no better way to organize the items that are listed. I would agree that there are a diversity of things laid out here. But I would contend that they are still connected to the overall theme of the book of Hebrews. Even these final remarks are linked to the idea of our perseverance.
I would suggest that what we find here are not just random bits that need to be thrown in at the end of the letter or simple formalities of greeting. Rather I believe that what is said here presents us with some vital keys to our faith’s endurance. What is said here outlines for us God’s divinely instituted system for preserving persecuted faith.
You see, God does not simply tell us to swim and then throw us in the deep end to make us start treading water. He doesn’t tell us that we need to persevere without providing the necessary accoutrements to accomplish it.
No. Our Lord has been gracious to provide us with everything we need in order to make our faith a lasting faith. And he spells it all out right here in this passage.
We might organize our thoughts today around this question: What has God done to fortify our faith? What has God done to ensure that our faith will not fail?
God has given us, first, godly leaders.
I. Godly leaders
Godly leaders are so important to our faith’s welfare. That’s why he says in verse 17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” If they weren’t important to our continued faithfulness, this would not have been included, would it? But our leaders are important.
Why are they important? It’s because, as it says, they are here to “keep watch over your souls.” You might catch that this is imagery of a shepherd. The shepherd keeps watch over the flock, making sure they are safe, well fed, and in a position where they can thrive.
And that is the job of the elders of this church. God places them over us to ensure that our souls thrive. It’s the job of a Christian leader to support and strengthen your faith. That’s why it says we need to submit to them.
Both the words obey and submit in the original language have the idea of appeasing. The word obey can actually be translated “tranquilize.” The idea is that you shouldn’t make the leader’s work difficult. You shouldn’t buck their authority by refusing their guidance, admonition, or rebukes. Rather your obedience should be so thorough that you almost lull them to sleep.
The word for leader offers some food for thought too. The KJV translates this, “Obey those who have rule over you.” That helps you to see the kind of leadership that’s being talked about here. The word leader has to do with one who has command. It’s even a word that has military connotations to it. A leader in the military is one who gives commands to those under him.
That’s kind of a different view of church leaders. Our view of a church leader is someone who is a “spiritual advisor.” He’s typically not seen as one how has any real authority. The best he can give is “pious advice” that you can accept or reject.
But what we read here gives you a radically different view. A church leader is one who has command over you. His counsel is authoritative and listening to him is of the utmost importance.
When you pull all this together you are supposed to recognize that the church is not a democracy. We shouldn’t view the Christian life from an egalitarian standpoint. God has invested certain men with authority and He has placed them in these positions for your personal and spiritual care. In other words, your thriving in the faith is very much dependent upon their oversight.
And of course in verse 18 and 19 he commands us to pray for our leaders. You know, it is a lot easier to submit to someone who you are praying for. But more than that, the praying is a form of submission and helps to ensure that your leaders are godly people. It helps to ensure that they are people to whom you should submit.
And I want to encourage you to be praying for us. We need you prayers. I will readily confess my weakness, and I’m sure Jim and Mark would say the same. If you pray for anything, pray that we would be endowed with the wisdom we need to watch over the flock. Pray that we would execute the duties of our office with the care and thoroughness that is required.
Or, if you’d like to make it more personal, pray that we’d serve you the way we should.
What’s the point of all this? What is the point of praying and appeasing leaders? Why does God point out that leaders have governance in the church?
It’s simply to remind us that no one is allowed to be a renegade Christian. God has instituted a hierarchy within the church (just like he has a hierarchy within the home), and these leader who are over us are there for our spiritual welfare. If you resist them, then you are resisting God Himself. And if you buck this authority or fail to place yourself under authority, then you are missing a vital lifeline.
Godly leaders are a vital ingredient for the preservation of our faith. And along with these godly leaders is their godly counsel.
II. Godly counsel
Look at verse 22. It says, “I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.”
You might say that the author is stressing again the importance of submission here. He’s a leader over them and he’s written this letter. In this letter he has given them godly counsel and exhorted them to faith. Now he wants them to submit to it.
But there is an important nuance that we should take note of here; something that goes beyond mere submission. It is the idea of “bearing the word of exhortation.” He’s commanding them to have a thoughtful, receptive attitude towards the things he has said.
Again, the KJV is helpful here. It uses the word “suffer.” “Suffer the word of exhortation.” He’s getting at the fact that what has been said is not necessarily agreeable to you. Here is something you don’t necessarily want to hear, but you have to hear it. More than that, you need to meditate on it and accept it.
The imagery of bearing is useful. You have to bear up a heavy backpack or load that has been placed upon you, and it is not an easy thing to do, is it? As a matter of fact, it can be downright painful. But it is something you have to do. You have to suffer or endure it.
All in all, this is stressing the gravity of a leader’s counsel. If something is said from this pulpit or if a leader in the church comes to you and says, “This is what you need to do,” then these words should have a great deal of weight. And you shouldn’t just flippantly pass it off.
You can put this in context of the rest of Scripture too. In Proverbs 11 it says, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”
So this is important to remember. If we are going to persevere, we need godly counsel. We need men who will tell us what we don’t want to hear. And when they speak it, we need to accept it.
But we need more than godly leaders and godly counsel. We also need godly examples.
III. Godly examples
We find one such example in verse 23. Verse 23 talks about Timothy and it tells us that he has just been released. The assumption is that Timothy had been in prison. Thankfully, though, he had been released. Thankfully, he was able to go free.
But the fact still remains that Timothy had faced some adversity. And I’m pretty sure he wasn’t detained simply for a parking ticket. Most likely, he had been imprisoned for his faith.
Now some might think that this is just a polite thing that the author includes. It is never a good thing to show up at someone’s house and say, “Hey we are here for dinner. I hope you don’t mind I brought a couple of my friends along.” Some might see this as the author’s way of just letting his readers know that they need to have some extra pillows ready.
But I think there’s more to it than that. I think that the author is pointing out that there are others all around who are facing the same kinds of adversities that these Hebrew Christians are facing.
And for that reason Timothy is an example to the Hebrews (and to us). Timothy should be something of a source of encouragement to us. Timothy is one who is persevering. He’s someone who was courageous. He was faithful, and because of that he’s something of a hero. He’s someone we can follow.
One of the worst things that can happen to us is we think that we are alone or imagine that we are the only ones who have ever been tried or tested. There is comfort in knowing that others have suffered for the sake of the gospel. When we know that others have faced the same kinds of adversities, we can take courage to persevere ourselves.
Right now we are reading John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress in our Sunday night fellowship group. One of the marvels is that this classic was written while Bunyan was in prison. He was in jail for 12 years for preaching the gospel.
Over a decade of his life was taken away. Can you imagine being away from your children for 12 years, and missing seeing them grow up?
But Bunyan’s faith is an example to us. If they want to put us in prison, we don’t have to shrink back. We can remember guys like him who have gone before us. And we can gain strength to persevere from their testimonies.
But God not only supplies godly examples, he also provides the support of godly friends.
IV. Godly friends
Look at verse 24. Almost all the epistles in the NT end with some sort of greeting. This one is no different. It says that that we are to greet our local church friends (the leaders and saints). And it goes on to say that our far away friends (those in Italy) send their greetings to us.
Now again, we could breeze over this and write it off as formalities. But I don’t think we should do that. I think we need to listen to what is being said here. I think the author wants us to remember that we are not alone. We have friends and partners in Christ, both near to us and far away.
In other words, God has given us a world wide web of support. We have the people sitting right next to us and a vast number of people with whom we do not have direct contact; people that may even be on complete the other side of the planet.
I think that this is a reminder of how important the broader church is. We are not isolated. We are not an independent church in the true sense of it. We are connected to the rest of the body of Christ. And we should find some consolation in that.
When Elizabeth and I first came back to Ashland we were setting out to plant a church. And we were amazed that we had so many godly people praying for us. We had people in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and a multitude of other states. And there were times when the Lord used that to lift our spirits.
Let’s not forget that God has created a world wide support system for us. Being in union with Christ means we are united to a whole kingdom of godly people.
And I might just add that the local expression of this should not be overlooked. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this or not, but we are commanded to greet one another.
Again, I think we typically skip over this or pawn it off as formalities of a letter. But it is not. Part of our Christian duty to one another is to greet one another. We are required to shake that hand or give a quick hug as we say hello.
We need that network of support. We need those constant reminders of each other’s love. They help to remind us that we can depend on one another.
More than that, as we build those relational ties, we help to build each other’s faith. We strengthen it for and during those difficult times we might be facing.
But above all, more than godly leaders, godly counsel, godly examples, and godly friends-- we have godly power from which we can draw.
V. Godly power
That’s what we find in verses 20-22. This is the blessing we have heard repeated a number of times at the end of our services. Here is the great benediction that we have often used. And what is this benediction? It’s a reminder that our faith is fueled by God.
It has a lot of components to the sentence. So it is a little complex in that regard but the main nut of it is “May the God of peace… equip you to do his will.” That’s the nut and kernel of this benediction. And it is a testimony that all our service is through the power of God alone. He is the one who equips us and enables us to serve him.
I will say that this is in the middle of everything we’ve looked at so far. And I think that is a way of saying that god’s power comes through these different channels. Everything we’ve mentioned is an avenue through which God empowers us. God equips us with strength through our leaders, through His word, through His people. All of these are the instruments God uses to impart his power.
But what is said here reminds us that God is the one who is behind it all. We do not persevere by our own strength. Our ability to stand up to those who would revile us is not our own. It is solely due to the grace of God.
And everything else that is said in these verses are here to remind us of how powerful God’s power in us is. When you look at what is said here you understand that the power God works in us is the same power he uses to raise the dead and to move history.
It says, “May the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus.” That’s talking about resurrection power. The resurrection of Christ was perhaps the most miraculous thing that ever happened in all of history besides creation itself. To bring life out of none life is absolutely impossible. It defies all logic and every law of physics.
But that is exactly what God did. And that is exactly the kind of power God imbues you with through your leaders and friends in this church!
But it is not just resurrection power, it is the power of God’s decree.
What’s the next thing it says? It says, “by the blood of the eternal covenant.”
That word eternal reminds us that God’s covenant wasn’t something that happened at the spur of the moment. He wasn’t making things up as he went along. He had planned all this out in eternity past. Before the world came into being. Before the universe’s clock started ticking God made a decision to create the world and save mankind. He formulated this covenant with us and made a pact with the Son, the second person of the Trinity, to redeem us through the shedding of his blood.
And of course, this implies that he worked out that plan in time. So when it talks about this “eternal covenant” it is reminding us that all through history God was working to effect His plan. The nations were moved, events were orchesetrated.
And all the powers that the Lord used to bring these things about are the same powers He uses to support you and your faith.
So really, you should never think, “How ever could I stand for God in this situation?” Knowing that this kind of power supports you, the thing you should say is, “How ever could I not stand for him in any given situation.”
All this should remind us that our salvation is, from first to last, solely the work of God.
And at the end of the day, that is what allows us to persevere. If it were due to our strength or ability, we’d be able to boast in our achievements. But at the end of the day—or, perhaps it would be better to say, at the end of our lives, the only words that should resound are those we read at the end of 21: “to [Him] be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.