|Study of Hebrews|
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
The question that Paul is answering is how should Christians live while they are waiting for the second coming of Christ? How should they live? Before we go to chapter thirteen I would like to explain a very important truth. All the practical advice that Paul gives in Hebrews or Romans or all the advice you find in the New Testament is based on certain principles. The application of these principles is what we call practice.
One of the speakers we had at workers’ meeting was Dick Winn. He brought this same thing out except he didn’t use the same words. He called this essence [theology or theory] and he called this form [practice]. Basically, he was simply giving us a fundamental principle. There are certain differences between the two. You need to know those differences. Otherwise you will end up with problems. I would like to give you some differences between these two and then I will give you three of the main principles that the New Testament comes up with in terms of Christian living.
I said, “Why?”
He said, “Well, Africans live in the Old Testament time. They need the law. It is only Americans that need that.” He had forgotten that the fundamental principle of God’s grace is righteousness by faith whether it is America or if it is Russia. Different cultures have different practices. One of the principles of the New Testament is that modern Christians should be modest in their clothing. That is a fundamental principle. But the question is, “What is the definition of modesty?” In America it is one thing and in Africa it is a different one. In Africa, and we’ve had endless problems over this, only prostitutes wear slacks. So when missionaries come from this country we tell them, “Please don’t wear slacks.”
They say, “Why, what’s wrong with it?”
It may be perfectly O.K. in America but it isn’t in Africa. It is not modest for a lady to wear slacks there. In the cities where the western culture has affected the African you will find Christian ladies, including those in our church wearing trousers, but they will wear a dress over it. That’s O.K. today. Notice that the principle is the same. Should Americans be modest? Yes. Should Africans be modest in their dress? Yes.
What is the definition of modesty? There are some parts of Africa where men wear nothing. In America this would be terrible. When I was in Andrews University we had Dr. Oustervaldt. In New Guinea he did the same thing. He went and dressed just like them. I couldn’t do it because I was a victim of my culture. They did not feel embarrassed. They did not feel immodest. It is their way of living. In some parts of Kenya the women go topless, nothing. On the streets, everywhere. Nobody stares at them. It is just a part of their culture. Principles are universal but practice has to do with culture. These are the two main concepts of principles.
I want to give you the three main principles. As you read Hebrews thirteen you will notice that Paul will deal with this.
1. A Christian is not of this world even though he is living in this world.
This is a fundamental principle. Turn to John seventeen. Here is Jesus praying to His Father. Look at verse fifteen:
I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of this world but that Thou shouldst keep them from the evil.
Look also at Matt.5:13-16. Jesus in describing the Christian in the world says two things about the Christian: (1) You are the salt of the earth and (2) the light of the world. So we have a function in the world but we don’t belong to the world. Go to John 15:19:
If you were of the world, the world would love its own but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world therefore the world hates you.
In other words, “You no longer belong to the world even though you are living in it.” Once you have discovered this, all through the New Testament you will find it in Paul’s writings. Romans 12:2:
Be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Or take Gal. 6:14:
I glory in nothing else but the cross of Christ by which I am crucified unto the world and the world is crucified unto me.
Or James 1:27:
True religion is visiting the widows and keeping oneself unspotted from the world.
The reason I am emphasizing this is because we are facing a problem today. The pioneers of this country were godly men. They founded this country upon many Christian principles. The morals, the practices of this country were based on Christian standards. But today, and this is accepted by almost all theologians, we are living in a, quoting them, “post-Christian era.” Which means that no longer can we look at our culture and call it Christian. We are living in an age of new morality. “I do my own thing.” No longer is the Bible the standard. So this principle of “We are not of the world” is extremely important for us today in America.
It takes only a few years for us Seventh-day Adventists to catch up with the world. We are following the world in all our practices almost. The only difference is that they are ahead of us by a few years. Today someone showed me an ad for a “Seventh-day Adventist bowling league.” Twenty years ago it would be anathema. But today we are publicly announcing our bowling league. Is it because we have forgotten or we are not aware that we are living in a post-Christian era? Please don’t look at the culture around you any more as Christian.
2. The second principle is that the church is the body of Christ.
This concept is based on the concept of solidarity. How should this affect our practice? Turn to 1 Cor. 12:25:
There should be no schism in the body.
What does the word schism mean? No split, no division, no disunity. Is it possible for us to have different views of certain areas of theology and still be united? Yes. We need to respect each other but there should be no schism in the body but that the members should have the same care one for another. Why?
If you were running and you hit a stone and hurt your foot, maybe you were barefooted. We had a marathon up there in camp and I had forgotten my tennis shoes so I ran barefooted. I discovered that my feet were no longer tough like they were in Africa. I used to play soccer barefooted when I was a kid. They were hurting. After I finished I had to sit down and my hands went and rubbed those feet. If my hands said, “Look, feet, you are dirty, I’m not going to touch you.” That would be a schism. But the hands realized that the feet are part of the body and so they had to take care of them. Look at verse twenty-six:
And whether one member suffers, all the members suffer with him.
We don’t ostracize that one member. We suffer with each other. If one member is honored, do all the members become jealous? We do not get jealous because one member is honored. We take that as a privilege as if it is ours. We actually practice it in our own homes. If your daughter or son graduates with flying colors, how do you parents feel? Very proud and happy because that child is part of the parents.
Now you have the same thing in the church. In the family, it’s a blood tie. In the church, it is a spiritual tie. It is the gospel that has made us one. That’s the second principle: the church is the body of Christ. Therefore we have to live as a family. We must not divide the church. The moment we divide the church for what we may call good reasons it is a contradiction of the gospel. We have to be one.
What did Jesus say? The wheat and the tares will grow together until the harvest. Who does the separating? I learned some tremendous lessons in the mission field — especially in Uganda and Ethiopia. They have opened my eyes to something that I could hardly imagine. The members that we thought were the weakest, the ones that we thought would give in the earliest or the quickest, the members who we thought would turn their backs to the church the quickest were the ones who stood for Christ in the crisis under Idi Amin and in Ethiopia in the marxist revolution. The ones we thought would be the first to defend the church were the ones that were in high positions but they were the ones who became the enemies of the church.
So I said to myself, “Never will I judge by outward appearance.” You never know the heart of another individual. I was shocked at some of the folks that I thought were liberal and worldly but when the crisis came they stood up for Christ and were even willing to die. And the ones that were holy and always in church, always on the platform, always active, were not always there in times of crisis. We cannot judge. We do not know what is in the heart.
The third principle is a very important one and is an extension of the second one.
3. Because the church is the body of Christ we must never do anything that will be a stumbling block to our fellow Christians.
That is very strong in Paul’s writings. One of the arguments was “Should we eat food offered to idols?” Some Christians said, “Well, its perfectly O.K. because we don’t worship idols.” Other Christians said, “If you eat food offered to idols you are condoning idol worship.” So there was a big argument.
What does Paul do? He said, “Let every man be persuaded in his own mind, because we live unto God. But if in eating food offered to idols you offend your brother then you refrain.” He said, “I am all things to all men that I may win some.”
I was sent to conduct a lay-workers meeting in the high lands of Ethiopia, 9,600 feet above sea level. Even on the equator it gets cold at that altitude. In fact, in 1968 I took a group of students who were always bragging that they were stronger than I was to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I took eleven of them up there and only two of them made it and I had to help them, that is, one of the girls. The mountain is 19,400 feet high. From 16,000 ft. to 19,000 there was nothing but snow. It was awfully cold.
We did not have a beautiful church like this with central heating. Just poles and a grass roof. Everybody was shivering. So when I came there in the evening, I was cold, too. I said to the translator, who was a student that I knew, “Why don’t we make a hot drink before we go into the meeting so that everyone at least is warm?”
He whispered to me, “Pastor, these people here believe that even striking a match once on the Sabbath is sin.”
They would not have any hot drink. I had a guest room. All I had to do was turn the heat on. I was shivering and they were shivering but I said to myself, “If I make a hot drink against their convictions, we will have trouble. They would not even listen to me. So I said, “O.K. I will go without a hot drink.”
Paul one day was with Timothy and the Jews would not listen to him because Timothy was uncircumcised. What did he do? “Come, bring me the knife, I will do it.”
We have to be all things to all men so that we may win some. So we need to know this, especially if we go to the mission field. Please try to learn the culture of the people. Don’t impose your western culture, because you can bring on endless headaches in the mission field. The fact that you wear western clothes does not make you a Christian. We must do nothing that will hurt our brothers.
I realize we are living in a very complex world. Where do we draw the line? Let God guide you. I had a lady who was studying with me in Nampa [Idaho, U.S.A.]. She could not see any reason why she should remove her jewelry. She called for Bible reasons. And, really, if you are honest with the Bible, you cannot. I gave her two statements. 1. We are living in the day of atonement which was very solemn. 2. I gave her the principle. I said, “Look sister, let us say that I baptize you with your earrings on do you know what my church members would do? Can you imagine? Would it bring division in the church? They would report me to the conference (I said this would happen). For their sake, remove them because we are one body. This issue is not whether it is right or wrong. Each one must live for the other.”
With this in mind, let’s go to Hebrews thirteen. The first six verses of this chapter are dealing with Christian living in the world. How should Christians live in the world? He begins by brotherly love. Now this term, “brotherly love,” is based on the middle eastern mind and the concept of solidarity. You see, in America, a brother means the same father and same mother. In the Middle East, if you are of the same clan, you are brothers. They call it the extended family. The human race is a solidarity. In other words, every human being is a being that God has purchased with His precious blood. We should look at human beings as God’s special property and we should have brotherly love toward all. In verse two we are admonished:
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
One also has to be cautious. Sometimes strangers can be rascals and there are other passages where Paul says be careful that you don’t spoil people. In Africa, one man came who was sixty years old. He said to me, “I have no father and no mother.”
My father had died so I said to him, “I have no father also.”
Paul said to the Thessalonians, “He who does not work does not eat.” In other words, people will sometimes take advantage of your love and your kindness. You need to look at both sides. What Paul is saying is, “Don’t be afraid to open your hearts to people who genuinely need help.” In verse three Paul says:
Remember them that are in bonds,
Now the word “bonds” means those who are in prison. The prison ministry is part of the mission of the Christian church.
as bound with them;
What does he mean there? He means identify yourself with those prisoners. That may be hard. That’s why when we go the penitentiary we must never look down on the prisoner because, “There go I except for the grace of God.” Given the same circumstances and the right environment and the right up-bringing, I may do the same thing as those fellows did. Do not help prisoners by patronizing, but help them by identifying ourselves with them. Continuing with verse three:
And them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.
In other words, if my leg is hurt, how much of the body is affected? All. When a Christian is hurt or somebody else is hurt, please identify yourself as if it was you. All this is based on the concept of “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” That is another principle that is put in terms of practice.
Verse four has to do with marriage and I think we need to apply this especially today where the new morality has really brought chaos in our country:
Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.
Now the word “judge” here means God will allow them to suffer the consequences of their sins. God will remove His protection and I believe that one of the reasons why this world is scourged with AIDS is that God has simply said, “Go ahead, let me show you what happens when you live outside of my principles.” Verse five says:
Let your conversation be without covetousness;
The word “conversation” here means life style. Paul says:
Be content with such things as ye have for He has said I will never leave you nor forsake you.
In other words, please don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. Learn to be content. Look at Phil. 4:11:
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
And then he says:
I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.
Please notice that he could not do it himself. “I can do all things through Christ Who strengtheneth me.” In other words, we need to be content in Christ. The Bible doesn’t condemn you for being rich, but learn to be content. That’s a fundamental principle, a practice that we need to apply in our Christian living.
Let’s go back to Heb.13:6, which is the last verse dealing with our living in this world. How should we, as Christians, live in this world?
So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper [or the Lord is my supplier].
I have learned to be content because God supplies me with all my needs. Look at Matt.6:24:
No man can serve two masters.
Now who are the two masters here? You can’t serve self and God. Remember the formula of the gospel, “Not I, but Christ.” This is what Christ is applying in this text. Verse twenty-five continues:
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body what you shall put on.
Don’t worry about yourself. What should be your priority? Verse thirty-three:
But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
In other words, God will take care of your personal needs. Now sometimes He will let you go pretty low. He will test you. How much are you willing to give up? All your property? I’ll tell you that, in the last days, you will be tested not only with your property, your belongings, or your bank account, but with your own life. Are you willing to die? That’s the level we must reach.
Go back to Hebrews thirteen. From verse seven onwards he applies the principle of the church being the body, with each individual having a function. He stops at a very important area.
Remember them which have the rule over you [consider them who are above you in the church], who spoke unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation [life style].
In other words, here is a very important principle, especially for officers of the church. The spirituality of the church will never rise as a whole above the level of its officers. So it is important that those who have responsibilities in the church should be spiritual so that they may help the members to rise up. Now they may be individuals who will grow above the leaders but, as a church, the spiritual level of the church is never higher than the level of its officers, pastors, Sabbath School teachers, etc. So we must remember that Paul is saying here that the officers of the church are an example.
But who is the greatest example? Verse eight points to Jesus Christ. The changeless Christ.
He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
This is important, because there is a teaching in the Christian church today to which we have been exposed, although not in detail, but we have been exposed. There is a theologian by the name of Cobert. He teaches something called the six stages of development. When we reach the sixth stage, he said we do not need the law. The law is only for those who are immature. But when you are mature you don’t need the law (he says).
Folks, the principles that I gave you are eternal and universal. We may have to change the practice, depending on the time and the culture, but please remember that the principles come from Jesus Christ. They are changeless as Christ is. Verse nine says:
Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.
Let us look at this in the light of what Paul is doing in this whole epistle. Don’t forget the background. Paul is writing to Jewish Christians who were in danger of giving up Christ. Now there are three ways that the devil will destroy your faith:
As Paul said to the Corinthians, “After my departure, if somebody comes to you and teaches another gospel and another Christ, you will easily accept him.” Any teaching, no matter how spiritual it looks or how religious, if it turns your eyes from Christ to self is perverting the gospel. I am saying this because there are many who are sincerely trying to turn our eyes on our performance.
Who produces the performance in the Christian? Christ does it through the Holy Spirit. What is our part? Our part is to abide in Him and to live on the platform of “Not I, but Christ.” If you keep looking all the time at your experience you are turning your eyes from Christ, Who is the source of your righteousness, to yourself. The devil is very clever to deceive you into thinking you are doing fine.
Remember the Pharisee who prayed in the temple, “I thank God that I am not like that sinner in the back.” What do I do? “I fast twice a week.” The Jewish law required this only once a week but he was going the second mile. He was better than the others. You will find the same thing. You will notice that people whose eyes are turned to themselves are always criticizing others who have not attained to that level. They bring a split in the church. We must keep our eyes on Jesus Christ. In verse nine, in the second half, he brings this up in a very nice way:
For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace [truth] ...
Or as Sister White puts it, “We need to be settled into the truth.” We need to become unshakeable in the truth.
...not with meats [by the way, the word “meats” here does not mean flesh, it means food], which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.
What was he referring to by “meats”? If you eat food offered to idols, you are not a good Christian. Turn to Romans. This is a text that is often used by Christians and they pervert the facts. Rom.14:1:
Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
Verse two says,
For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs [vegetables].
In other words, those who were eating vegetables only are weak. Is he talking about the health reform teaching? No. What was the issue in those days? The Christians in Paul’s days, the Greeks especially, the Gentiles, believed that the soul was immortal and therefore it is good, but it is imprisoned in the body. Therefore, you have to deprive the body of good things so that the soul may be strong. And, of course, if you wanted to deprive the body of good things, eat only grapefruit. That was their mentality. It was asceticism. In other words, you punish the body.
Now this is a form of self-righteousness. So there were Christians who were saying that we must not eat desserts, we must not eat chocolate any more. We must only eat vegetables and fruits. But today in America we have some wonderful vegetables and fruits. It is hard for you to understand, but in those days vegetables were not abundant in variety. It’s like in Africa, we had the same thing, cabbage, year in and year out. It is quite tough, not like what we have here, like chewing straw. I used to get tired of it when I went to workers meetings. I ate with the Africans. We ate it for breakfast, lunch, and supper. Sometimes we had beans with it and the beans were full of weevils. I don’t know which was better.
What Paul is saying here in verse nine is that those who are not established in the truth will look to themselves. Their concern is for themselves. Paul says, “Whatever we eat or drink we should do it unto God.” Please notice the motivation. Not that we think one is better than the other but because we live unto the Lord. So we need to know that, folks, because the moment you live for yourself you begin judging others. In other words, let each one be persuaded.
Now look at verses ten through twelve. Sometimes the animals that were sacrificed were brought to the altar.
For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate [He was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem].
Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.
Now crucifixion brought disgrace. If He was crucified within the camp, He would bring disgrace to the Jews. So they crucified Him outside the city so that the Jews could say, “We are not defiled.” But God used that to show that He died for all people, not only for the Jews. But now Paul is using another approach, but the same truth. He says, “When you become a Christian you will be despised by the worldly people. You will be mocked. You will be ridiculed. What should you do? Should you be willing to suffer? Was Christ willing to suffer shame? Why? For the joy that was set before Him. What was the joy? It was to see us in heaven. So we must be willing to suffer for His sake.” Verse fifteen:
By him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
This is true worship.
Another truth that was brought out in our workers” meeting has some things of which we need to be aware. I am trying to do it through the preaching of the Word. When you first come to Christ, you normally worship Him for one of two reasons: either out of fear of punishment or desire for reward. In fact, Sister [Ellen G.] White says in Evangelism, when you go to the world and preach the gospel, “Tell them that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun.” Why does God do that? Because Christ comes down to the level where you and I are. We are egocentric. So God gives us incentives that appeal to the human heart. The incentive is that if you accept Me you will escape punishment and you will have a mansion.
But the tragedy is that if you remain in that frame of understanding, you have not grown as a Christian. All the disciples, not just Judas, accepted Christ for selfish reasons. Look at the arguments, “Who of them would be greatest?” In Matt. nineteen, when the young man refused to give up his goods and follow Christ, Peter said, “But we have forsaken all, what is our reward?” What will we get out of it? Did Christ rebuke Peter? No. Christ met him on the level where he then was.
So please remember that people who are brought into the church through evangelistic efforts mainly accept Christ from either fear of punishment or a desire for reward. I know that, in my case and my wife’s case, we both joined this church out of fear. We were scared of the investigative judgment. We were Sunday-keepers so we joined the commandment-keeping people of God to escape eternal extermination. If I remained there, I would not be standing here today. We need to get out of that nitch of understanding.
Dick Winn brought out a second thought, meaningful to him, because he was born in an Adventist home. I think he is a third-generation Adventist. He said, “Many Adventists do the things that Jesus requires out of conformity. They were raised as Adventists and they simply conform. Their heart is not in what they do; they are doing it for sake of [conformity].”