Moral Exhortations in Hebrews 13

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Hebrews 13:1

When interpreting the moral exhortations of New Testament letters, I try to keep these principles in mind:

  • they flow from the letter’s theological teaching about Jesus and the saving work of God
  • they are directed at Christians, not the world
  • they are primarily concerned with life within Christ’s own community of faith (i.e., the church)

Chapter 13 of the Letter to the Hebrews contains a number of admonitions that are best read within this framework. The author often couches many of his instruction in the themes and liturgical language that he has used throughout his letter.

Welcoming Christians from Other Places – Verse 2 directs Christians to welcome their brothers and sisters from other places: missionaries on their journeys, Christians traveling from other cities, or perhaps even believers fleeing from persecution. Endurance in persecution is a major theme of this epistle. The various parts of Christ’s one worldwide church are connected to each other. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Christian Solidarity in Persecution – Verse 3 directs Christians to care for their brothers and sisters suffering at the hands of a pagan imperial or civic power. The outside world is not friendly to Christ and his people. When one of Christ’s family suffers persecution, all suffer. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (See also 10:32-34)

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Leeman: Two Ages, Not Two Kingdoms

Jonathan Leeman at TGC: Not Two Kingdoms, But Two Ages.

For centuries Christians have considered different ways of relating the church and the world, particularly with respect to the God-established authorities in each domain. Well-known proposals include Augustine’s “two cities,” Gelasius’s “two swords,” Luther’s “two kingdoms,” and Kuyper’s ideas about sphere sovereignty, which operate inside of what might be called a “one-kingdom” framework.

I would like to offer an alternative that learns from each of these, but that also draws on the last half-century of New Testament theology. In a nutshell, I would propose that the Spirit-given power of the new covenant requires a doctrine of two ages. A doctrine of two ages or inaugurated eschatology is a popular way among New Testament theologians for characterizing how creation history and redemptive history bifurcated when Christ’s kingdom was inaugurated but not consummated through the giving of the new covenant. The history of new creation began even while the history of the old creation continued.

I think Leeman offers a helpful perspective. Read the whole thing.

Israel’s Changing Economy in the 8th Century BCE

What shall I say about the homes of the wicked filled with treasures gained by cheating? What about the disgusting practice of measuring out grain with dishonest measures? How can I tolerate your merchants who use dishonest scales and weights? Micah 6:10-11 NLT

The Torah envisions life in the promised land as a subsistence economy in which every family farms perpetually on the plot allocated to it by God. God promised Abraham a multitude of descendants and land on which to live. Israel’s occupation of Canaan following the Exodus was the fulfillment of that promise. Each family was allocated a plot of land – its inheritance – by lot. The land was entrusted to each family as a gift from God and would never be sold in perpetuity. Families would subsist on the bountiful fruits of their own farms and share with those in need.

The message of the prophets, however, seems to assume a different kind of economy. They speak of weights and measures used in buying and selling. They condemn those who complain about the lack of commerce on Israel’s Sabbaths and holy days. They write about the use of dishonesty and pretext in the courts to confiscate the land of the poor. They address the enslavement of the vulnerable to provide labor for the fields. This does not look like an economy primarily built on the produce of one’s own flocks and fields.

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For a Daughter of Abraham, Freedom on the Sabbath

When I was stationed in Korea in the early 90’s, it was common to see short, elderly Korean women bent at the waist, walking down the street with large burdens on their backs. They were carrying merchandise to market or produce from their fields and I wondered how such a small, frail person could bear such a load.

And often you would see them without their burdens as well. Many of them were still bent at the waist, unable to stand erect, suffering from decades of hard labor, poverty and the nutritional deficits they had suffered in the early post-war years. The Korean War and the years that followed were extremely hard on the Korean people. I’m sure that if I listened to these bent-over ladies describe their lives, I would hear stories of both great strength and great suffering.

In our reading from the gospel, Luke tells us about a woman who suffered from a similar ailment.

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. Luke 13:10-11

Jesus has two ways of describing her condition. In verse 12, Jesus spoke about her weakness – which might also be translated as her illness or her disability. In verse 16, he described her as being in Satan’s bondage. And to complicate matters a little more, in verse 11, Luke says that she had a spirit of weakness.

What is the relationship here between her physical ailment and her spiritual condition?  Is Luke telling us that physical ailments are caused by demonic attacks?  Or is he telling us that Satan uses physical suffering as an opportunity to cause spiritual suffering?

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How I Pray at Military Ceremonies

I offer a lot of public invocations. Here are some brief, practical thoughts on how I approach the task.

Introducing the Prayer. I say why I am offering an invocation and gently invite people to participate in their own way. The introduction recognizes that a time of prayer is important on this occasion for many people, but not for all, and it gives the listeners freedom to adapt my words for their own use as they see fit. A couple of examples.

“We are rejoicing today with John and Kathy Jones as John is promoted to Colonel. I invite you to take these moments to give thanks in your own way, in your own heart, as I offer this invocation.”

“Retirement is a momentous occasion is every person’s life. As we gather to honor Sally Smith on her retirement, I invite you to take a few moments for your own prayer or reflection as I offer this invocation.”

Praying in the First Person Singular. When I am directly addressing the deity, I try to speak in the first person singular or in the imperative. In other words, I say “I” instead of “we”, or I completely leave off the pronoun. In a government ceremony, I cannot assume that everyone prays as I do. It would be inaccurate to put my words in their mouths. Since I can only speak for myself, I don’t ordinarily say “we ask” or “we pray” or other words that presume to speak for others. I only use the word “we” to describe the obvious sentiments of the assembled group. A couple of examples:

“O Lord, I pray to you for all who are grieving. We’re all feeling the pain of Sam’s death. I ask you to comfort all who mourn, especially Sam’s family and close friends. Let the love that brings them sorrow today also bring healing to their souls.”

“God, I ask you to bless this food we’re about to share. We’re all happy to have a day out of the office at the company picnic. Keep us safe and use this time to refresh our spirits.”

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