November 4, 2012

FOUR IMPORTANT AREAS OF ACTIVITY.

(Hebrews 13:1-9)


Part of the Saxon Pericope Gospel list series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

Our text is recorded in the 13th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the 1st through the 9th verse, reading as follows:

Dear fellow redeemed sinners, the Christian faith alone provides perfection. That is because Christ provides all we need for salvation. Through faith He provides us with His righteousness, that in God’s just eyes we may be holy. We are completely purchased by the Son of God. Yet while on earth we come far short in practice. St. Paul confesses: Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after (Phil. 3:12a). What a relief Christ is when conscience or people or the devil accuses us. We can look toward Him and be certain of our final victory. When paganism is rampant it is more important than ever to be influenced by Christian principles. Today’s text sums up –
FOUR IMPORTANT AREAS OF ACTIVITY.
I. Charity
II. Morality
III. Sufficiency
IV. Consistency
I
We begin with charity. Let brotherly love continue. Here we have Christian love. This does not refer to romance, sex, or brotherly fondness. It is more than the vaunted “brotherhood of all mankind” or even spiritual brethren. It is meant to be a faint reflection of God’s full and perfect love toward each of us. Moreover, we are to “continue” after our initial enthusiasm tires. It is easy to grow weary There is much need and demand for charity everywhere. It is exhausting even trying to make a dent in it. This is a prime expectation of pastoral candidates (hospitality, 1 Tim. 3:2), but here in our epistle to the Hebrews this same virtue is made the goal for all believers.
Our text adds: Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Christianity means action. James rejects “hot air” in place of living faith which breathes and does actual deeds. We may recall how in our text for Trinity 18 James condemned those who say, “Be ye warmed and filled,” yet provide nothing to that end though they are well able to do so (2:16). So John writes: Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). Originally Jesus scolded those who “say and do not” (Matt. 23:3). Hospitality was especially vital when society pressured the early Christians to conform to the world. Many would make life as miserable as possible to discourage the converts and cause them to reevaluate their new Christian faith. However, the Christians practiced brotherly love and so made a great impression on the pagan observers. Our text seeks to encourage the recipients with the example of entertaining angels. Of course, we think back to Abraham and three “men” who suddenly entered his camp from nowhere and feasted with him (Gen. 18:3ff); likewise the two angels whom Lot urged to stay with him in safety for the night, thinking that they were mere travelers who were in danger from the wicked citizens of Sodom (19:1). Only God knows how many others have entertained His angels unawares. To that he adds: Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body. Early Christians experienced much trouble in wars with the other citizens, but even in times of peace they endured persecution simply because they were Christians and not because they were bad citizens. Paul himself once got papers to go to Damascus to arrest believers there (Acts 9:2). During the years following his conversion he received his share of bonds and stripes. Jesus mentions those who were in bonds and in prison specifically at the Judgment foretold in Matthew 25 (v. 36). He will consider this service as done unto Himself. Yes, we continue to need Christian love and hospitality.
II
Second, our text speaks of morality. Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Marriage is an estate founded by God and is rightly called “holy matrimony.” His institution is intended till death do the couple part and for the duration of this world. Thus Jesus at Cana did not consider the wedding there out of date, but supported it with His miracle of wine that the new family might rejoice (John 2). Governments in every culture have strict regulations on marriage, for it is vitally important to society. It is needed for the preservation of children. Who shall have responsibility for them? Love and the care of little ones is one of the most important job which anyone can ever have. Note: Marriage is honorable in all.” “All” includes the clergy. That is the normal expectation, included on the list in considering choosing pastors (1 Tim. 3:2a, 4f). He is normally to be the husband of one wife and to rear his children in a godly manner. Paul writes Timothy and in the strongest language declares that forbidding to marry is a doctrine of devils (1 Tim. 4:3a). God even urges younger widows to remarry (1 Tim. 5:11), for this is a God-pleasing estate.
We have attacks on God’s institution today. There is the enormous divorce scandal, which even exists among the clergy. Today the very definition of marriage is foolishly debated and several states are voting to redefine marriage after millennia of everyone knowing that marriage consists of one man and woman unto one flesh. The situation is totally upside down: Many heterosexuals despise marriage and live together in gross sin, while the homosexuals demand a perverse mutation of marriage as their “right.” How strange humans are! Beware! Our text threatens with reason: whoremongers and adulterers God will judge! When morality is not practiced, it leads to much heartache, not only among women but also often among men. There are so many unnecessary single-parent families. It is sad enough when a widow or widower becomes such by death, although many through God’s grace manage quite well. It is difficult enough for two parents to do a good job, but here one spouse simply decides to leave and desert one’s duty. The poor children lack guidance. There are rampant sexual diseases around the country. Morality is something still for our day and in the future. From morality our text turns to –
III
Sufficiency. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have. “Conversation” means “conduct,” modern speaking being only one type of conduct. Covetousness is natural. We see many magnificent things all around us. In our country we have stories of going from a log cabin to the White House. We have indeed a “land of opportunity,” and God has greatly blessed it. Covetousness is further provoked by advertisers who prod us that we just must have the latest product. Certainly no one admires a shiftless, lazy bum as “not materialistic,” but who seems to have no problem begging or taking handouts whether government or private. Never the less, we should not seek material at the cost of spiritual. Jesus advises, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33), and then He in wisdom provides us with these other things in due time. Recall the rich man with his amazing windfall who that same night died .(Luke 12:19f). What did his “prosperity” do for him? Others perhaps covet fame and power as much as wealth, or use their wealth to gain such.
Instead of covetousness, we need to develop contentment. Be content with such things as ye have, for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. God knows our real needs. He designed us and all creatures. As He reminds in the Sermon on the Mount, He is fully aware of the flowers of the field, the birds of the air, and the crown of His creation, people (Matt. 6:25ff). Thus He faithfully provides the necessities of life. We are to be content. Paul states: Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim. 6:16). God is with us presently.. This we can declare this boldly and mean it! And even more important, God’s Son has prepared a place for us in heaven and preserves a place for us there eternally. He once assured Jacob: “I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, … I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Gen. 28:15). David tells Solomon: Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee; He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the LORD. (1 Chron. 28:20). God has never tired of this. Thus Jesus after His resurrection promises: “Lo I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20b). Our text quotes Ps. 54(v. 4a): Behold, God is my Helper; and particularly many other psalms emphasize that God is our ever-present Helper (30:10). We should trust His reign and this knowledge should produce contentment within us.
IV
Finally, our text urges consistency. Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. They ought to recall the constancy of their faithful teachers. We look initially at the early Christian Church. John warns the members against those who “bring not this doctrine” (2 John 1:10), but other teachings. Peter prophesies that “there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts” (2 Pet. 3:3). Paul often faced down many errorists during his decades of ministry. John recorded that there were many antichrists already at his time (1 John 2:18), people who by their contrary ideas opposed Christ. No matter how smoothly introduced, their ideas were against Christ. Yes, all the apostles except John were executed for the faith, and he died in exile. The martyrs since down to our own day show the cost for remaining faithful to their faithful God.
We hold up Jesus Christ as our pattern: Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. He is unchangeable. He is unchangeable in His own Person and in His teachings. His holiness remains the same; His love for us remains the same; His efforts to gain sinners remains the same; His desire to take us to heaven remains the same. He is the only Savior. There is no salvation in any other (Acts 4:12). He remains the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Like all those Christians gone before us, we must cling to Christ as the steadfast and solid Rock of salvation.
Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein. We are to reject strange innovations. Even while the New Testament books were being given by the Holy Ghost, early cults sprang up. Various people rejected Christ’s teachings for their own ideas (1 Tim. 6:3ff). No matter how nutty, there was enough human gullibility and some of these upstarts managed to attract sizeable followings. Paul warns Christians to avoid “profane and old wives’ fables” (1 Tim. 4:7), skip all that foolishness. All which we need for our spiritual welfare is contained in the Holy Scriptures, that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished (2 Tim. 3:17). His urging to reject strange innovations remains valid for today. Scoffers come with the latest interpretations and supposed discoveries, turning many away from what the Bible teaches. Others expect Scripture to surrender to science falsely so called (1 Tim. 6:20). It could not possibly be that the latest theory is wrong and shall pass away. Oh, no, it must be the Bible which is error. By the time the truth is found many lives have been harmed. People of our day even want to celebrate uncertainty and extol diversity. Anything goes – except Christianity. Like the Athenians, they gather to hear any and every new and crazy idea and be entertained by such (Acts 17:21). Some people reject whatever they cannot understand or offends their limited human reason. “The Bible cannot mean that, for that is not how I see the matter or wish to live!” They place themselves over God. This also stirs unionism among denominations. We can all gather as one in worship, since who really knows the whole truth; it is only a matter of interpretation. Let these explanations humor the mind and tickle the ears of the participants. “Let’s get together.” (But, I observe, not too closely together. We must keep our denominational bureaucracies separate. Those highly salaried people are not about to lose their jobs in an actual merger. No. We will cooperate in worship and other things, but keep our established bureaucracy.)
Paul asks: Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. (Rom. 8:33f). He confidently can exclaim: For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day. (2 Tim. 1:12). So we desire to walk in the ways of the Lord, to trust in Him and confide in Him, to be satisfied with what He lends us, to practice our Christian morality in our daily conduct. Finally, we pray for faithful pastors who consistently encourage us to do likewise. God grant His Church many more such dedicated men and strengthen His followers. Amen.
HYMNS: 24, 421, 399, 310*, 486
GLORIA DEI – HOOD RIVER, OREGON
November 4, 2012