The NIV’s heading for this chapter is not particularly inspiring or helpful – “Concluding Exhortations”. I think a better heading might have been “Acceptable Worship”, because this chapter seems to pick up where the last chapter left off (12:28,29). Our response to this amazing message of what Christ has done should be worship, and this chapter unpacks what our worship should look like. It includes our praise of God, but is about all of life. Broadly speaking our worship of God is to be shown by our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and by staying faithful to Christ.
The letter has often reminded us that we don’t run the Christian race on our own, and we have a responsibility to encourage our fellow runners. We’re to love one another, which means more than simply loving those in the church we get on easily with. It means hospitality to strangers; that may have referred to travelling missionaries or Christians fleeing persecution needing shelter, for us in Ebbe’s it means welcoming visitors, offering hospitality to those from overseas or new to Oxford. The mention of angels probably refers to the time in Genesis 18 when Abraham entertained angelic visitors. The point is not necessarily that we’re to expect supernatural visitors, but rather that strangers may well be a source of unexpected blessing (as many of us could testify). The other group mentioned that we might be slow to show Christian love to are those it might be costly to identify. But Christian love has an “as if” mentality – “as if you were their fellow prisoners … as if you yourselves were suffering” – the attitude that says “It could be me, and if so what would I like others to do for me?”
Sex and money are two things that can expose what we truly worship. Honouring marriage is one aspect of Christian love: it means doing nothing that might harm or weaken or destroy a marriage, whether our own or someone else’s, now or in the future. Contentment, in a culture that is driven and fuelled by discontentment, is a battle for us all – and a battle won by remembering what we do have, namely God. Knowing he is with me, there is nothing I need fear or feel the lack of. My contentment in him is a measure of my worship of him.
Verse 8 is often lifted out of context, but it seems to be the bridge between v.7 and v.9. They are to stick with the message their leaders taught, ie the message of Jesus, and to imitate the faith of their leaders, ie faith in Jesus, because Jesus hasn’t changed and never will. They mustn’t be fooled by new teaching, therefore, and look elsewhere for God’s grace. All we need is to be found in Jesus. Our “altar “ (v.10) is the cross, by faith we feed on Christ’s sacrifice, which offers blessing and privilege beyond anything in the old covenant. Faith in Christ also brings disgrace in the world’s eyes: it means “going outside the camp”, not making our home in this world, or seeking the approval of this world. But faith in him makes us holy and offers us eternal hope. Our worship means trusting Christ, but also responding in grateful praise, wanting to please and honour God in all we say and do.
The first three verses speak of how we behave towards those in leadership over us. We are to recognise their God-given responsibility for us. Obey (the word it seems has more the sense of “trust” or “put confidence in”), submit, and pray for them – for it is to our own advantage that we do.
The writer ends with his own prayer for them, reminding them of their true pastor, the Lord Jesus, whose death inaugurated the new covenant and who now lives. The phrase “through the blood of the eternal covenant” perhaps conveys the truth that Christ’s resurrection was the demonstration that his sacrifice was accepted and the new covenant was established. What God has done for Christ then becomes the basis of the prayer for God’s work in them: equipping them to do God’s will, and accomplishing that will their lives.