The Basics

You would think that it makes more sense to start with basics, and move to the more complicated issues. That’s how we typically communicate or train others: move from the simple to the complex. The author of Hebrews does not.

Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,”

Hebrews 13:1-5 (NASB)

After covering the supremacy of Jesus over all other competitors for our devotion, after going into great detail about the heavenly ministry of Jesus on our behalf, after listing off examples of faith from Scripture, and after pushing for endurance in the face of difficulty, we finally have the basics.

It seems that these things can’t be left out, but they aren’t part of his discussion either. What we typically leave to the end is the “punchline”, but this seems different, like it should be the basic call on how to live. It’s true that Paul doesn’t put those sorts of things right up front, but he didn’t typically leave them to the closing either (Exceptions might be: 1 Thes. and 1 Tim.).

But, what if this is the punchline? What if the writer has been leading here all along, and all that has been said, was said to support these words? Honestly, I don’t think that’s true. A house isn’t finished until the trim and painting is done, and I believe that’s what we have here.

The argument may be “complete” in a sense, in that all the pieces and parts are there, and laid out in order with the proper structure. But the life of a disciple of Jesus is not intuitive. These things cannot be left unsaid. They are not part of the argument supporting the supremacy of Jesus. But anyone believing the supremacy of Jesus needs to live according to these basics.

So, here they are in bullet form:

  1. Love your fellow disciples
  2. Welcome those you don’t know
  3. Identify with the persecuted
  4. Honor pure marriage
  5. Be responsible with money, not motivated by it

They’re pretty simple and straight forward. And they’re hard. They don’t allow us to be selfish, self-motivated, or self-centered. They don’t allow us to be comfortable.

They do allow us to be loving, they allow us to be at peace with our Savior. This sort of behavior is external evidence of inner holiness. And these things are things with which I struggle.

What I have discovered is that I have to persevere in the struggle, and not be content with my failures in any one of them. It’s not okay that I’m selfish. It’s not okay that I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it however I want to do it. I live for my King, and at His pleasure. I am not my own, and I am not home yet. Neither are you.

So, what’s your view through this knothole this morning?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


The Faithful Example of Abraham

The “Role Call of Faith” continues in Hebrews 11. After the “antediluvian” examples, we reach Abraham. He is such an important example, there are four instances listed where he shows great faith. We’re going to look at three of them:

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE.

Hebrews 11:8-12 NASB

The first is the call. Abraham responds when Yahweh calls him to leave Haran and head to Canaan (Gen. 12:1-4). He responds by obeying, and this meant leaving the comfortable and known and going to the uncomfortable and unknown. There was a promise involved, so, obedience was to be rewarded. But there had to be belief involved, trust in the One making the promises. You and I are called. And there are promises involved. Will we obey, leave the known for the unknown, the comfortable for the uncomfortable? Will we trust the One making the promises?

And then we have the demonstration of faith in Abraham living as a sojourner in the land promised to him. Here the other patriarchs are mentioned, along with a reason for living this way. They were “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder are God.” Really? Is that why they lived in tents in Canaan? Reading the Genesis account of these men may not leave you with that impression, but what does become clear is that they lived in tents in a land they believed was theirs.

Living in a land believed to be theirs, meant living among cities of stone, and those who lived in them. It meant pasturing flocks around tilled fields of others in a land you knew was yours. It was an act of faith that waited for the timing of the One making the promise rather than taking matters into your own hands (except possibly for Simeon and Levi at Shechem).

How willing are we to faithfully persevere in obedience, even not seeing the promise? How long will we wait for the promise, while being obedient? Abraham sometimes waited more than a decade before another recorded conversation with the One making these promises. How long will we live in tents, temporary houses, waiting on the promise of real permanent mansions? The writer of Hebrews is pushing his audience to persevere to the very end.

And Abraham is used again, along with Sarah, in faithfully conceiving Isaac. Think about that, though. How much faith did that take? We tend to skip by the uncomfortable consideration of intimacy between spouses here. But, really, is it surprising they conceived? Abraham had been promised, and specifically promised that one from Sarah would be his heir, not Ishmael. He laughed, as did Sarah, but the “mechanics” of the process hadn’t changed. It’s just that this time it worked. And yet, the writer of Hebrews calls it faith.

And, I suppose, it was faith. After Sarah dies, Abraham has other kids, so it wasn’t Abraham who had the difficulty, it was Sarah who was barren. That’s not a criticism, it’s an important detail. Abraham doesn’t “jettison” his wife at any point along this process. She’s not the “problem”, from his point of view. He is dedicated and devoted to her even though she cannot, in herself, provide the promised child. In a way, her barrenness is what brings God to the forefront. Unless He steps in, nothing changes. But, even as long as he doesn’t, Abraham is faithful to this barren woman, and is for her whole life. That’s faith.

You see, we can become so pragmatic about how God’s promises are fulfilled. We can “see” His work, only under certain parameters, as if He can only work in certain ways. And yet, Abraham simply obeys God, remaining faithful to this woman who cannot provide him a son, an heir, the one thing he needs to see what he has been promised. And in remaining faithful to her, he remains faithful to the One promising.

Let’s pay close attention to the example of faith provided in Abraham. Let’s be uncomfortable, persevere without seeing our hope fulfilled immediately, and live faithful to the ones our Savior has provided to us. Being cooped up with people around the ones we love can strain that love. But it can also build it, renovate it, rejuvenate it, and make it new again. Your choice. Like Abraham, let’s choose faith.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Unimaginable Character

How often have you run across passages or stories in Scripture that horrify you? How many times have you discovered a passage that you struggle believing is in character of our Savior? If you have found very few, perhaps you can try to imagine Jesus discussing this one:

“If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.

Exodus 21:7 NASB

This is one of those passages that are difficult to reconcile with the character we ascribe to Jesus. How could Jesus condone slavery, let alone a father selling his daughter into such an institution? Yet, that same Jesus, ministering to a Samaritan woman one moment, and a woman caught in adultery the next, lived a thousand years after the culture of this law. Think about that, Jesus a thousand years after Moses. So, to judge this law against the culture of first-century Judaism, and especially 21st-century America, looses all sense of perspective. Still, it’s in there, it’s inspired, and Jesus came to fulfill the law rather than abolish the law. That’s a tacit approval of this law.

The circumstances that would drive a father to the necessity of enslaving his daughter would have to be severe, regardless of culture. If the normal rules of debt-slavery were followed (i.e. those for male slaves), then this father would be left with an unmarryable daughter after six years. That becomes clearer as the rest of the corollaries are examined:

If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

Exodus 21:8-11 NASB

What is not necessarily obvious here is that God has combined two sets of cultural traditions/laws in order to convert a debt-slavery transaction into a marriage contract. There is no option to sell the woman into typical “slavery”, she remains protected as a fellow Hebrew. In fact, notice that the woman is considered family: She’s either 1) a wife (designated for himself), daughter-in-law (designated for his son), or relative (let her be redeemed – technical term for “kinsman redeemer”). So there are some very serious protections included in these corollaries. If the buyer will not adhere to any of these three, then she goes free and the owner forfeits his payment (i.e. the father keeps the money/loan and gets his daughter back).

Also notice the status of this sort of “wife”. If another wife is acquired in a “normal” fashion, then the “purchased wife” has the same rights, guaranteed. She’s not less of a spouse because of how she entered the household. This protects the rights of the poor, protecting them from exploitation by the wealthy, in fact, such a woman is raised to the status of the wealthy (the “husband” cannot reduce her food or clothing).

Judged from the perspective of Bronze Age Cultures, what our Redeemer has done here is elevate the status of women, protect families, and protect women and the poor from exploitation. So, if you do encounter a 21st-century critic of this law, feel free to ask them why they would be against such things.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation