Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods, which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.
We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably. But I especially you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner. (NKJV)
As the writer begins to close up his thoughts, he reminds them of some things to keep in mind.
1. Remember the message, vs. 7-9. While it’s true he starts off referring to those who rule over you, his emphasis here is on what they preached: the word of God. This “word” focus is on the Word, John 1:1, that is, Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Then he warns them against being carried about with various and strange doctrines.
Many in our day seem to think it’s right and necessary to throw out the old doctrines, the old beliefs, and substitute new ones in their place. This may be from social convention or political maneuvering. It may be from something else. Regardless, the old paths, Jeremiah 6:16, of divine revelation are neglected, overgrown, and forgotten in preference to the broad way of unbelief and “reason” and “science”.
In contrast to this, the writer warns his readers that the object of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ, is eternal and unchanging. While it’s true that our understanding of Him has developed throughout the ages of the church, the truth about Him has not. What was true 2000 years is still true, and will be true 2000 years from now. There will be no new revelation, no change in the truth. And it’s true regardless of who disagrees with it or denies it or tries to substitute something else in its place. It’s true even if nobody believes it.
In a world of constant change and increasing chaos, this unchanging truth is the one thing we can hold on to with assurance.
Among other things, the first century church was troubled with controversies about diet. What one could or could not eat had been an important part of Jewish culture in the Old Testament. When first century Jews were converted to Christ, they brought a lot of this view with them. Hence, our writer’s comment about the heart being established by grace and not by diet, which has not profited those who have been occupied with it. Paul had to deal with this problem, as well. Cf. Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 6:13. Even our Lord had to deal with this problem. Cf. Matthew 15; Mark 7:1-23.
2. Remember the Master, vs. 10-16. Thinking of food perhaps led the writer to think about the Old Testament sacrificial system. Without getting too deeply into it, many of the sacrificial animals weren’t completely consumed on the altar. Part of the sacrifice was eaten by the priest and/or by the one offering it. The most notable example of this was the Passover, Exodus 12:8-10.
This leads into a difficult saying of our Lord found in John 6, starting with v. 41. We’ll pick up His thought in v. 53. His audience was questioning what He was saying, quarreling among themselves about it, v. 52. In answer, our Lord said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed and My blood is drink indeed.”
This Scripture has led some to believe that the Lord was referring to actual flesh and blood, so the elements of Communion, bread and wine, are really transformed into the flesh and blood of our Lord by the words of a priest.
A close reading of John 6 dispels this notion. Earlier in the chapter, the Lord spoke of believing in Him, vs. 29, 35-40, 45, 47. In v. 63, He told His disciples, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.”
When our Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, using things from the Passover meal He and His disciples had just eaten, He said of the bread, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Of the cup, He said, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sin,” Matthew 26:26, 27. See also Mark 14:22, 23; Luke 22:19, 20. Pay close attention to the fact, though, that after the Lord said this, He was careful to call the wine, “the fruit of the vine,” Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25. It had not been changed into something radically different, not been changed into real blood. Our Lord was saying that the bread and the cup represent His body and blood, not that they had or would become them.
The Lord Jesus died once for sin, Hebrews 9:26-28. It isn’t necessary to offer some man-made “unbloody sacrifice” around the world millions of times a day for salvation. His life, as represented by the bread, and His death, as represented by the cup, are the only things which bring salvation. All else brings only death, regardless of what is said about them.
In remembering the Master, we mustn’t forget that the writer said that He suffered outside the gate, v. 13. Jesus wasn’t “popular” in any sense, but was despised and rejected by men, Isaiah 53:3. He suffered reproach and rejection, especially by the religious leaders of His day. It was they who were foremost in demanding He be put to death, cf. Matthew 27:11, 20. If we would follow the Lord Jesus, it must be outside the camp, v. 13, because that’s where He is.
In our last post, we wrote of the danger of being possessed by things. That’s because this world isn’t our final home. In the words of v. 14, here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.
Through the Lord Jesus, we’re to continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, v.15. That’s because we have a hope that this world isn’t all there is to life, that all the trouble and difficulty we face will one day be gone, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away, Revelation 21:4.
At the same time, the writer reminds us that we still have responsibility in this world: But do not forget to do good and to share, v. 16. As someone has put it, we’re not to be so heavenly-minded that we’re no earthly good. We’re here to please God, not just ourselves, and to sacrifice our own interests in service to others is well-pleasing to Him. God has left us here to be salt and light in a dark and corrupt world, not just to serve ourselves.
3. Remember the ministers, v. 17. V. 7 speaks of the message of those who preach. V. 17 speaks of their responsibility – and ours. The word translated “rule over” simply refers to leaders, not to kings on a throne. There are some preachers like that. Such men fail to realize the responsibility that they have. Spurgeon used to say that the idea of facing thousands of people in preaching the Gospel was enough to crush him into the dust. He understood that the Gospel, church, Scripture – these all deal with eternal things and how we treat them in this life has a lot to do with the next one. He knew that he would give an account of his ministry one day, and it wouldn’t be about how popular he was, though he preached to thousands and his sermons circled the world (long before the internet and instant messaging), but how faithful he was to the Word and to God.
As listeners, we, too, have a responsibility to faithful ministers – not to be a burden to them, but to listen to them and give them honor due them as ministers of God. To do otherwise is unprofitable, v. 17.
4. Remember me, vs. 18, 19. The writer recognized his own need of prayer, even though he desired to live honorably, v. 18. But even though he had a good conscience, he knew that his own strength wasn’t enough for this. Further, he wanted to be restored to them, and prayer was a means to this. We don’t know if he were in jail or what it was that was preventing him from being with them, but God knew.
Praying is an essential part of the Christian life. By prayer, we don’t mean some rote petition said while we think about something else, or some formula given out by a priest, but the outpouring of a heart burdened with this life and/or thankful for God’s grace and blessing through it all. When Saul of Tarsus was converted and people would have trouble believing that he was no longer their enemy, what was the evidence of his new life? “Behold, he is praying,” Acts 9:11. Now, as a Pharisee, no doubt, Saul had said many a prayer. But he had never prayed. There is a difference. It’s one thing to “say a prayer,” as I’ve occasionally had folks ask me to do; it’s an entirely different matter simply to “pray.”