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Friday, June 7, 2013

What is Determining Your Love?

Hebrews 13

As we read Hebrews 13 today, we need to remember to whom the writer was writing. During the first century of the Christian era, two groups of people were being confronted with the Gospel. The Jews were the ones to whom God sent His promised Messiah. Many Jews, particularly the scribes, Pharisees, Levites, and Sadducees, had a very difficult time accepting that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. (I have gone into detail before as to why this is.) The other group of people to whom the Gospel was proclaimed was the non-Jew, the Gentiles. After Pentecost and after the conversion of Saul and his renaming to Paul, separate ministries aimed at each of these two groups of people were realized. Peter became the apostle to the Hebrews and established the Christian church in Jerusalem. Paul became the lead apostle to the Gentiles. The book of Hebrews was written to the people who called themselves Hebrew, yet were also Christians. For this select group of Messianic Jews, they had to determine how to live in their culture, what parts of their religious culture could be retained, and which had to be removed since they were now followers of Christ. By the end of this first century, they would no longer be allowed to worship in the Jewish synagogues as a Jewish sect but would have to be completely separate from their Jewish culture. The book of Hebrews addresses some of the issues that confront Jewish Christians as they determine what from their religious past to carryover, what to discard, and what to add so that their worship reflects not just a sect of Judaism, but also a completely new belief. The Messiah has come and He has become the Redeemer for all humanity.

In Hebrews 13, the first sentence states explicitly, “Let love for your fellow believers continue and be a fixed practice with you; never let it fail” (AMP). Love appears to be spoken of throughout this chapter as we hear of other attributes of a believer such as hospitality, compassion, fidelity, contentment, faithfulness, and discernment. Without love, none of these would be possible. If we consider Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 13, he states what love is. Near the end of this chapter in 1 Corinthians, Paul sums it up and says of faith, hope, and love (the three abiding attributes) that love is the greatest. In Galatians 5:6, Paul says that what matters in faith working through love. If we look at the two commandments that Christ says are the greatest, love vertically to God and horizontally to all humanity. Paul teaches this also in Galatians 5:14. It seems obvious, then, that the greatest attribute and character trait of a follower of Jesus Christ is to be love. Looking at Hebrews 13 through this filter then, makes it seem obvious that the writer was not only speaking about love, then hospitality, then compassion, but was speaking first of love from which the ability to be hospitable, compassionate, faithful, et cetera.

Considering that the writer of Hebrews is beginning the final chapter of Hebrews with the concept of love and how it is acted it out, we must then look at verse 5 with that same filter. Verse five states in the Amplified Bible, 

Let your character/moral disposition be free from love of money, including greed, avarice, lust, and craving for earthly possessions, and be satisfied with your present circumstances and with what you have; for God Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let you down (relax My grip on you)! Assuredly not! 

This passage is taken from Genesis 28:15, 1 Chronicles 28:20, and Joshua 1:5. This was taught to the Hebrew children from the time of Jacob. He received this word of encouragement and confirmation from the LORD/Yahweh in his dream. The character of love, then, can be considered to have been one the LORD required and instilled in His followers from almost the time at which He called the Israelites to be His chosen people. The writer is getting to the point that love is the overarching theme of God, His creation of humanity, His sustaining the Israelites, and His providing the sufficient sacrifice of His Son, the Messiah to bring people back to a faultless relationship Him. Verse five of Hebrews 13 not only speaks of God’s love for us, but our trust of Him as all-sufficient. He says, remember, He has this love covenant with humanity and do not worry about money. He says since you know that Yahweh loves you and has loved you from the very beginning, know that you will never be bereft, and know that you do not have to worry, be greedy, or jealous. God in His love for them will never leave you, no, not ever, nor will He forsake you, no, not ever. Yahweh will be there for them at all times, to provide sustenance, clothing, shelter, and everything your body needs. Because of this, you can enact His love in your actions by being hospitable, compassionate, kind, faithful, and generous. He adds, that if you do not know how to be a Christian without a Jewish culture, look to your leaders, the ones who “brought you the ones who brought you the Word of God” (vs. 7 AMP). Observe then closely and live as they live. They are the role models for how you are to live as Christians; imitate their faith.

            The rest of Hebrews 13 tells the Messianic Jews what to do with the sacrifices that are brought to the temple each week. The writer tells them when the blood of the sacrifice is brought into the temple, they should go out the city’s gate to where Christ was sacrificed, to where Christ was cast out by the leaders of the city. We should remember that, as Christ had no permanent home on earth, neither do Christians. That is one of the reasons they crucified Christ outside the gates. We are to offer sacrifices of praise to glorify God by doing acts of kindness, goodness, generosity, and philanthropy (vs. 16). These sacrifices are pleasing to God. The Hebrews and all followers of Christ have a new and better sacrifice, the sacrifice of love for God and humanity.

            I assert that the writer is stating that the main attribute and purpose of Christians is to love God and man. He gives suggestions on how this is to be done. He also says that our love of God will also show itself in our trust of the Lord to never leave us or forsake us. If we do not trust the God and Creator of the entire universe, then how can we say that we have received His love? Whether we are going through times of difficulty or easy, ordinary days, God loves us and will never leave or forsake His children. What affects this acceptance of God’s love within ourselves is determined by whether by how much we have allowed God’s Holy Spirit to recreate us on the inside. When we become followers of Christ, His Holy Spirit resides in us. We determine how much we are willing to allow the Holy Spirit to change us. We choose whether to study His Word and be in a growing relationship with God. When we choose not to spend time with the Father every day, we choose not to grow and we hold back parts of ourselves from Him. It is from this unwillingness/stubbornness to submit our whole selves to Him that we do not grow enough to trust Him. We also do not grow in the knowledge of His love. This is reflected in our actions to God and humanity; we will not be as hospitable, philanthropic, compassionate, and kind.  

Does our lack of loving others and not loving God completely come from not trusting God? Alternatively, does it come from our stubbornness not to give our whole selves, heart, mind, spirit, and body, to Him? We each must decide for ourselves if we exhibit the pure love that comes from Christ. If not, what is keeping us from doing it? Is it due to our lack of trust or from stubbornness? We must get to the underlying cause because until we do, we will not be able to grow into the whole person that Christ wills for us and makes possible for us through His Holy Spirit.