July 15, 2017: Verse of the day


Steadfastness in the Faith

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were thus occupied were not benefited. (13:7–9)

I believe the primary appeal of this passage is for Jews who had heard and professed the gospel not to return to legalism. The New Covenant in Jesus Christ has standards, very high standards, but they do not involve ceremonies, rituals, holy days, and formalities. They are internal, not external.

Just as those who led [us] who spoke the word of God, and just as Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, so we should be in our doctrine and practices. We are not to be carried away by varied and strange teachings. One of Satan’s most subtle approaches to the Christian is to move him away from sound doctrine, to get him wrapped up in beliefs that are unfounded, uncertain, and changing. Bad doctrine results in bad living.

Purity of Doctrine

One of the saddest things in the world is for a Christian to get drawn into false doctrine and be rendered ineffective, to lose his joy, reward, and testimony. Yet such has been happening since the earliest days of the church. Paul was amazed that some of the Galatian believers were “so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6–7). Sometimes false teachers are kind, likable, and perhaps even sincere. It is often difficult to believe they would teach anything false or misleading. But we are to judge doctrine by God’s Word, not by the appearance or personality of the person who holds it. “Even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (v. 8). In other words, even if Paul changed his teaching from the revealed truths he had been preaching, he should not be followed. Even an angel is not to be believed above God’s Word. The point is so important that Paul repeats it in the next verse: “As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.”

These Galatians had started out in grace but were falling back under the law. They had begun in the Spirit, but were now trying to continue in the flesh. The Jews being addressed in Hebrews 13 were in danger of doing the same thing. The varied and strange teachings were not necessarily new teachings. They are not named, but it is likely that many, if not most, of the teachings were traditional Jewish beliefs. But they were strange to the gospel of grace.

Paul also warned the Ephesian elders of this danger. “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30). The apostle commended them to God’s Word, the only resource they had for staying true to the faith (v. 32). The closing appeal of the book of Romans is, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Rom. 16:17).

The worst false teachers are those who go under the guise of orthodoxy. An avowed liberal, cultist, or atheist is easily seen for what he is. Satan’s best workers are the deceptive ones, who know they will get a better hearing from God’s people if their heresy is coated with biblical ideas. “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:13–14). Satan’s primary target is the church. He does not need to pervert the world, because it is already perverted, already in his camp. This is why the New Testament is so filled with warnings for Christians to beware of false teaching. Satan does wish to destroy the power of the truth in the church.

God knows that the greatest battle His church faces is purity of doctrine, because that is the basis of everything else. Every bad practice, every bad act, every bad standard of conduct, can be traced to bad belief. The end result of the work of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, and of believers becoming unified in the faith and maturing in Christ, is that “we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). A church that is not sound in doctrine is unstable and vulnerable.

One of the marks of small children is lack of discernment. They have no way of telling what is good or bad for themselves. They judge only by feeling and whim. If something looks attractive, they may try to pick it up, even if it were a poisonous snake. If something looks remotely like food, they try to eat it. A child of three left to select his own diet would never live to four. He would either sweeten or poison himself to death.

Some Christians, unfortunately, show little more discernment than this in the spiritual realm. They have been so little exposed to sound doctrine, or so long removed from it, that they judge entirely by appearance and feeling. Consequently, the church is filled with babes, who swallow almost any teaching that is put before them, as long as it is not blatant heresy and the teacher claims to be evangelical. As a body, and as individual Christians, we cannot be steadfast in Christ unless we are “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). As long as believers are immature, false doctrine is a major danger (cf. Eph. 4:11–16).

Rejection of Legalism

Jews were used to having religious regulations for everything, and it was hard for them to adjust to freedom in Christ. It was difficult for them to accept the truth Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians 8:8, that “food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.” All their lives they had been taught and had believed that what you ate and did not eat was extremely important to God. Even how it was prepared and eaten was important. Now they are told that those who were thus occupied were not benefited. Spirituality comes not by foods.

Being spiritually concerned about food is unnecessary under the New Testament. In fact, insisting on dietary regulations for religious reasons is against the gospel. Paul uses the harshest possible words to describe those who propagate such ideas.

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. (1 Tim. 4:1–5)

God had a hard time convincing Peter that the dietary and ceremonial restrictions of Judaism were no longer valid. Peter even argued with God when He commanded him in a vision to kill and eat a variety of unclean animals. The Lord had to tell him three times, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15). Christ has rendered all external observances invalid and useless. “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). The Colossians were exhorted: “let no one act as your judge in regard to food” (2:16). As Christians, our hearts are only strengthened by grace.[1]

8 This famous verse has neither verb nor immediate link with what precedes and follows to clarify what is its intention in context. Probably it is to be understood as summing up the faith of the church’s founders (its epigrammatic form suggests a well-memorized creedal “motto”), which the readers are now called to imitate. Following the mention of the “outcome” of these earlier leaders’ lives, it serves to reassure the readers that, whereas their founding fathers may have died, Jesus remains and always will remain a secure foundation for their faith. The unexpected word order that separates the first two time references from the last—“Jesus Christ yesterday and today the same, and forever”—is perhaps intended to emphasize that the fact that he has proved unchanged so far (“yesterday and today”) assures us he will remain the same for the future. Following the assurance of vv. 5–6, this verse thus locates the reliability of our unfailing God more specifically in the unchangeability of Jesus—and thus, as so often in this letter, places Jesus alongside God without distinction. (Cf. 1:12, where our author has quoted the description of God’s unchangeability in Ps 102:27 [using the same phrase “the same”] as though speaking of the Son; for the threefold division of time, cf. the doxologies of Rev 1:4, 8; 4:8.)[2] 13:8. Former leaders have died, but Jesus Christ remains the same. The constancy of Jesus enables us to follow the faith of great Christian leaders. The lives of the former leaders declared memorably the changelessness of Christ. Both the readers of Hebrews and believers today have access to the power and example of the unchanging Christ. Because of his past and present work, Jesus Christ can meet our every need.

Christ’s work of yesterday was to suffer for our sins on the cross. His work of today is to serve as our High Priest (Heb. 4:14–16; 7:25). His future work is to return and conclude God’s saving purposes (Heb. 9:28). Jesus never needs to be replaced, and his work needs nothing added to maintain its perfection.[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 435–438). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 185). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, p. 238). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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