Serving Christ and sharing the Gospel

Faith in practice (Heb 13:1-21)

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This week most schools finished for the summer, and today at St. Michael’s we also finish our six-week journey through the book of Hebrews. Over the past month this great book of the Bible has:

  • Reminded us that Jesus is the perfect revelation of God – the Father has spoken to us through his Son.
  • It’s also shown us that Jesus is our perfect priest. He is our great high priest who offered a full and final sacrifice for our sin when he died on the Cross. His perfect sacrifice means we need no more priests, no more altars. Faith in Christ’s death is totally sufficient to secure our salvation.
  • And over the last couple of weeks Hebrews has encouraged us to persevere in our faith. We’ve been told to imitate ‘heroes of the faith’ – those men and women who kept trusting God through thick and thin and ‘ran the race’ set before them.

If you’ve missed a week, do take time to read through Hebrews for yourself, or catch up on our sermon series on our website.

Our time in Hebrews ends very practically today, as the author spells out in some detail what a life of faith should look like. Chapter 13 today highlights some of the specific attitudes and actions that we should aspire to as Christians. Today’s chapter takes us from theory to practice. It shows us a little of what the Christian life should look like when “the rubber hits the road”. Overall, it describes a Christian lifestyle that is radically counter-cultural – a lifestyle that’s very distinct and different from the norm in our society today.

  1. Love your Christian family!

Recent tragic events in Nice have reminded us of the three founding values of the French Republic. Three ideals the people were celebrating on Bastile Day last week – the values of liberty, equality - and fraternity. Fraternity is a word that means brotherly love. The love that should exist between siblings in a family. And it’s the type of love that’s commended in verse 1 of our passage today. As Christians we are members of God’s family, and so it makes sense that we should love one another as brothers and sisters.

In the famous passage often read out at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13 spells out for us what this kind of fraternal love looks like in practice. It includes patience, kindness, humility and mutual service. It’s the type of love we practice whenever people volunteer to serve one another here at church on Sundays, or take time to support a Christian brother or sister during the week. In fact, may I take this end-of-term opportunity to thank everyone who has served us at St. Michael’s in anyway since Easter. You have shown fraternal love in action!

One particular type of fraternal love is highlighted in verse 2 today. It speaks of the value of hospitality. Hospitality not just to Christians we know well, but those we don’t know so well too. Because it says “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” So the challenge for us is to show hospitality to members of our congregation you don’t know so well yet, or Christians from other churches or countries. Who could you have round for Sunday lunch or afternoon tea? Who could you meet for a coffee midweek? Which brother or sister here at St. Michael’s might benefit from some fraternal hospitality from you, especially if they are new here, or going through a tough time at the moment?

  1. Honour marriage!

This September, Helen and I celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. By God’s grace, Helen has managed to survive a decade at my side! And marriage really is something worth celebrating – a God-given invention designed to be a blessing to husband and wife, a secure basis for family life, and the foundation of a healthy society.

So its no surprise that in verse 4 today, the author of Hebrews says “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure.” Notice that he says marriage should be honoured “by all” – not just by those who are married themselves? Whether we are single, widowed, married or sadly divorced, every Christian should respect marriage and pray for those couples we know who are married. We should support those trying to stay faithful to their marriage vows - those working hard to love one another for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.

Our secular society is increasingly devaluing, redefining and denigrating the institution of marriage. This means Christian couples have a real opportunity to show our culture the blessings of a faithful, lifelong marriage - it’s a very real opportunity for us to be salt and light in our mixed-up world.

  1. Seek security in God, not your bank balance!

If our culture is lukewarm about the value of marriage, its red hot on the value of money! I think its fair to say that money and possessions are seen by our society as the most sure-fire route to future security and present contentment.

But the author of Hebrews begs to differ. Because in verse 5 this morning he tells us to “Keep our lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have”. We should not look for joy or satisfaction in the size of our income, but in God. Money might make us more comfortable for a while, but it can’t give us lasting joy that will endure into eternity. A joy that comes from knowing God through faith in Christ. A joy based on knowing our lives have a purpose and a point. And - as verse 6 today reminds us - a joy that comes from knowing we have a heavenly inheritance. A future inheritance that no “mere mortal” - not even death itself - can take away from us.

Perhaps the greatest challenge we face in a relatively affluent parish like Gidea Park, is to persuade people of this fact. Our challenge is to convince our non-Christian neighbours that they need more than just material possessions and worldly pleasure. More than simply cash in the bank or a flash car in the garage. Our challenge is to tell them:

  • that they need the forgiveness only Christ can give;
  • that true contentment can only come from knowing God; and
  • that the only solution to the problem of death is faith in the Risen Jesus.
  1. Remember your leaders!

Its fair to say that there has been a crisis of leadership in this country over the past few weeks. David Cameron has had to be replaced as Prime Minister by Theresa May, and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is under threat as well. We also have a new England football manager and even TV’s Top Gear programme needs an new presenter now that Chris Evans has stepped down! 

Leadership is vital to the success of any organisation or institution. So its no surprise that the author of Hebrews has something to say on the subject before he concludes his letter. He gives his readers four points of guidance on a right attitude towards their church leaders. 

Firstly, in verse 7 he tells us to “remember” them, especially “the word of God” they have spoken to us. The biggest responsibility, the greatest privilege of any church leader is to preach the Gospel and teach the Bible. In other words, a Christian minister’s primary task is to tell people who Jesus is, what he’s done and what it means to follow him. And having heard this good news from them, we are to hold on to it. As verses 8 and 9 explain today, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever - so do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” In other words, Christ hasn’t changed, the Gospel hasn’t gone out of date, so continue to believe what you’ve been taught by your church leaders. Don’t be led astray by superstition, secretive cults, secular society or anything else. The greatest tribute we can pay to our Christian leaders is to hold fast to the Bible teaching have given us.

Secondly, in verse 7 we’re called us to copy our Christian leaders. We are to “consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Church leaders like myself have the daunting responsibility of setting a living, visible example of Christian belief and behaviour. Thankfully, the supreme example of Christian leadership comes from Jesus himself. As we become familiar with his life as its described in the gospels, we see a life of sinless perfection. A life of self-sacrifice, humility and devotion to God the Father. As we learnt last week, we are to fix our eyes on him, the author and perfector of our faith.

Thirdly, in verse 17 our author tells Christians to “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” It’s a challenge to let our authorized leaders do just that - lead. It’s an instruction to trust them and let them do the job God has given them to do, rather than frustrate and discourage them in their ministry. Our passage is clear that Church leaders are accountable to Christ for their decisions, not actually by those they serve. Strictly speaking, the church is a theocracy, not a democracy.

Fourthly, and finally, in verse 18 the author of Hebrews asks his readers to pray for him and his fellow leaders. Those of us called to church leadership have a daunting responsibility. As we’ve just heard, we are called to teach the Bible faithfully, model Christ-like behavior, and pastor our congregations. So do please pray for me, Ken, our bishops - and all those we know in Christian leadership. Pray that we will “live honourably” and discharge all the duties God has given us.

 Conclusion: Glorify God – through Jesus Christ!

I hope we’ve seen this morning that Christians are called to live a counter-cultural lifestyle. Our faith in Christ should make our lives visibly distinctive from those around us.

  • So while our society says ‘look after number one’, Hebrews tells us to love our brothers and sisters;
  • Our culture seeks to devalue or denigrate marriage, but Christians are to honour it;
  • Our materialistic world loves money and possessions, but the Bible says we should seek security and contentment in God;
  • And while our society is increasingly suspicious of authority, Christians are to trust their leaders.

Now that might sound like a fairly random list. A helpful list of Christian qualities, but nothing that ties them together? It might also sound like an impossible list - a list we can never perform in full. Thankfully, the final few verses of our reading today, give us answers to both those concerns.

Firstly, all the actions and attitudes described today are all ways of glorifying God. Whenever our actions and attitudes please God, we glorify him - we are displaying his goodness to the world. So whenever we try to love our neighbour, honour our marriage vows or respect our leaders, God is glorified. And, as verse 15 says today, God is glorified whenever our lips sing his praises or “confess his name”. God is glorified whenever we tell non-Christians that knowing Jesus is better than any amount of money, wealth or material success.

Finally, as I finish, one last word of encouragement from our passage today. Listen again to these reassuring words from verses 20 and 21: “Now may the God of peace, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ”. Be reassured that we’re not expected to live godly lives by our own strength alone. God promises to equip us with what we need to do his will. If we are truly his children, God will give us the wisdom, strength and grace we will need to live lives that glorify him. And did you notice he promises to do this “through Jesus Christ”?

  • Because through Jesus, our great High Priest, he will give us the forgiveness we need whenever we fall short of his standards.
  • Through Jesus, his Son, God will give us the Holy Spirit’s power.
  • And through Jesus, our Risen King, he will one day raise us to everlasting life.