by Mike Ratliff
Ἡ φιλαδελφία μενέτω. (Hebrews 13:1 NA27)
Let brotherly love continue. (a personal translation of Hebrews 13:1 from the NA27 Greek text)
In the last few posts we have looked at our Christian liberty and, in light of that, the discernment and wisdom we must have in not abandoning our common fellowship and that we not be part of some perceived legalistic religiosity. We cannot read the New Testament without seeing that believers are the ἐκκλησία or ekklēsia, “the called-out ones of God.” In the New Testament, the noun ἐκκλησία is found only in the Gospels in Matthew 16:18 and 18:17. Luke uses it in Acts several times, but Paul uses it throughout his epistles. More than half of its usage in the New Testament is in Paul’s epistles. In them, we see that he never thinks of the ἐκκλησία as a physical structure or man-made organization but as a dedicated group of disciples of Jesus Christ whom he has purchased with his blood. In light of these truths, we must seek to line ourselves up with God’s will in our obedience under the spiritual authority He has set over us.
Ἡ φιλαδελφία μενέτω. τῆς φιλοξενίας μὴ ἐπιλανθάνεσθε, διὰ ταύτης γὰρ ἔλαθόν τινες ξενίσαντες ἀγγέλους. μιμνῄσκεσθε τῶν δεσμίων ὡς συνδεδεμένοι, τῶν κακουχουμένων ὡς καὶ αὐτοὶ ὄντες ἐν σώματι. Τίμιος ὁ γάμος ἐν πᾶσιν καὶ ἡ κοίτη ἀμίαντος, πόρνους γὰρ καὶ μοιχοὺς κρινεῖ ὁ θεός. Ἀφιλάργυρος ὁ τρόπος, ἀρκούμενοι τοῖς παροῦσιν. αὐτὸς γὰρ εἴρηκεν· οὐ μή σε ἀνῶ οὐδ᾽ οὐ μή σε ἐγκαταλίπω, ὥστε θαρροῦντας ἡμᾶς λέγειν· κύριος ἐμοὶ βοηθός, [καὶ] οὐ φοβηθήσομαι, τί ποιήσει μοι ἄνθρωπος; (Hebrews 13:1-6 NA27)
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the Body. Let marriage be respected by all and let the marriage bed be undefiled for the sexually immoral and adulterers, God will judge. Let your manner of life be free from greed, being content with what you have, for He has said, “By no means will I abandon you nor forsake you.” So that we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper and I will not be afraid, what can man do to me?” (a personal translation of Hebrews 13:1-6 from the NA27 Greek text)
As one who sometimes teaches things that cause some to become angry enough to un-friend me or unsubscribe from my blog I understand the isolation and being placed in the position of knowing the cost of obedience. Sacred Cows are meant to be toppled over and those who love their idols do not like it when their comfort zone is shaken a bit by the application of God’s truth. On the other hand, I love the ἐκκλησία. Why? I am part of it. It is the Body of Christ and Christ went to the cross to die so that we who believe the Gospel and obey it, are forever in Him, justified by grace through faith. As a teacher of the Word of God, I open God’s truth to edify the ἐκκλησία and bring glory to God.
Now, in light of that, look at what the writer of Hebrews is telling us here. How can we do these things if we are not in fellowship together? Some professing Christians have treated me shabbily, but it is such a joy to meet and fellowship with a genuine brother or sister in Christ! God will judge those who have other agendas. In the middle of this passage, we see the call for us to simply stand firm as Christians in the moral cesspool that is this lost and dying world. This is why it is so tragic for men such as Mark Driscoll to bring his “ministry” down to the level of the sewer with the gutter language and fleshly sermons and continual focus on the sexual side of things rather than the spiritual. He is defiling not only himself but those who follow him. There are times when our circumstances can seem overwhelming. If we stay pinned to the Nightly News, for instance, it can seem like there is no hope at times, that God has forsaken us. But look what is said here. God will never leave us or abandon us. The temporal is not the true reality for the Christian.
Μνημονεύετε τῶν ἡγουμένων ὑμῶν, οἵτινες ἐλάλησαν ὑμῖν τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ, ὧν ἀναθεωροῦντες τὴν ἔκβασιν τῆς ἀναστροφῆς μιμεῖσθε τὴν πίστιν. Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς ἐχθὲς καὶ σήμερον ὁ αὐτὸς καὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας. Διδαχαῖς ποικίλαις καὶ ξέναις μὴ παραφέρεσθε· καλὸν γὰρ χάριτι βεβαιοῦσθαι τὴν καρδίαν, οὐ βρώμασιν ἐν οἷς οὐκ ὠφελήθησαν οἱ περιπατοῦντες. ἔχομεν θυσιαστήριον ἐξ οὗ φαγεῖν οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἐξουσίαν οἱ τῇ σκηνῇ λατρεύοντες. ὧν γὰρ εἰσφέρεται ζῴων τὸ αἷμα περὶ ἁμαρτίας εἰς τὰ ἅγια διὰ τοῦ ἀρχιερέως, τούτων τὰ σώματα κατακαίεται ἔξω τῆς παρεμβολῆς. Διὸ καὶ Ἰησοῦς, ἵνα ἁγιάσῃ διὰ τοῦ ἰδίου αἵματος τὸν λαόν, ἔξω τῆς πύλης ἔπαθεν. τοίνυν ἐξερχώμεθα πρὸς αὐτὸν ἔξω τῆς παρεμβολῆς τὸν ὀνειδισμὸν αὐτοῦ φέροντες· οὐ γὰρ ἔχομεν ὧδε μένουσαν πόλιν ἀλλὰ τὴν μέλλουσαν ἐπιζητοῦμεν. Δι᾽ αὐτοῦ [οὖν] ἀναφέρωμεν θυσίαν αἰνέσεως διὰ παντὸς τῷ θεῷ, τοῦτ᾽ ἔστιν καρπὸν χειλέων ὁμολογούντων τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ. τῆς δὲ εὐποιΐας καὶ κοινωνίας μὴ ἐπιλανθάνεσθε· τοιαύταις γὰρ θυσίαις εὐαρεστεῖται ὁ θεός. Πείθεσθε τοῖς ἡγουμένοις ὑμῶν καὶ ὑπείκετε, αὐτοὶ γὰρ ἀγρυπνοῦσιν ὑπὲρ τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμῶν ὡς λόγον ἀποδώσοντες, ἵνα μετὰ χαρᾶς τοῦτο ποιῶσιν καὶ μὴ στενάζοντες· ἀλυσιτελὲς γὰρ ὑμῖν τοῦτο. (Hebrews 13:7-17 NA27)
Remembering the ones leading you who spoke the Word of God to you, considering the outcome of their way of life, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried away by various and strange teachings for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace not with foods, by which the ones walking devoted to them were not helped. We have an altar from which the ones serving in the tabernacle do not have authority to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the Holy of Holies by the High Priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. Therefore, Jesus, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So then, let us go out to Him, outside the camp bearing His reproach. For we do not have here a lasting city but the one coming we are seeking. Through Him, therefore, let us always offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is to say, the fruit of lips, confessing His name. Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Obey the ones leading you and submit to them for they are keeping watch on behalf of your souls as ones rendering an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning for this would be unprofitable for you. (a personal translation of Hebrews 13:7-17 from the NA27 Greek text)
Notice that this passage begins (v7) with an exhortation for us to emulate our leaders who speak the Word of God to us then ends (v17) with an actual imperative (command) for submission to leaders. Before we dig into that, let us look at the meat in between.
Look at our Saviour! Look at what He did for His ἐκκλησία! Therefore, what are we to do? Are we to take our freedom in Christ and live as antinomians? Not according this! No, we are to look carefully at what our Saviour won for us through His sacrifice and the privilege of coming boldly to the throne of grace where we have an altar from which to eat that those mired in religiosity have no access. What does it mean that we should go to Christ outside the camp bearing His reproach? It means that we should embrace our own cross, leaving behind the love of this world and desire for its approval. Our city is not of this world and we are seeking the one that is coming. Therefore, let brotherly love continue along with hospitality and sharing as we seek to do His will above all.
Pastors and elders of the ἐκκλησία exercise the very authority of Christ when they preach, teach and apply Sacred Scripture (Acts 20:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13). They are servants of the ἐκκλησία on behalf of Christ and must give Him an account of their faithfulness. So you see, this submission and authority has to do with our Faith. When so-called pastors take passages like this and demand blind obedience to their worldly agendas that is something else entirely. We are to obey the authorities God has placed over us as long as those authorities are not commanding us to disobey God. I have had some varying degrees of interactions with pastors and elders and deacons in these areas. If we pray for wisdom and discernment and apply Romans 12:1-2, for instance, as we grow and mature as Christians, we will be able to know when our leaders are leading within the will of God and when they are not. When they are not, then things get very serious and not one time have I enjoyed what came after.
The point is, we should always seek the peace and brotherly love and doing the will of God. When this is short-circuited either by the leadership or by rebellion from someone in the “church” then there are methods given to us in the Word of God to handle these things correctly.
On the other hand, the way it should work is that the pastors and elders in place in a local manifestation of the ἐκκλησία should be about the spiritual well-being of their flocks. If they are doing it right then they will be caring for the souls of those under their care and there will be harmony and joy in the mutual responsibilities of the flock and the Christ ordained overseers. That is the Biblical model. Is that what we usually see in our churches in our day and time?
Soli Deo Gloria!