Monthly Archives: March 2013


In the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 13, and verse 17, our author adds to what he has already said about leaders about 10 verses back (13:7):

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (NIV Heb 13:17)

Many English translations of the New Testament have been distilled in an atmosphere of an authoritarian, clergy-driven, church model and the result is seen in many of their mis-translations. Here are two examples in the one sentence, one in the King James version (KJV) and the other in the NIV.

First, the word “obey” in the KJV is an unfortunate translation of the Greek verb peitho. A better translation would be “be persuaded by”. The verb form also shows that those persuaded will benefit from the leaders’ counsel. A better rendering would be, “allow yourselves to be persuaded by your leaders”, or ”follow them … ”. Authoritarianism is far from the mind and language of our author!  We have already seen this throughout the letter.

The NIV quoted above has a much better rendering have confidence in your leaders. However, the word authority in the NIV is not there in the original! It has been added to fit in with churchy thinking.

The Greek word used for leaders, hegoumenoi, means “those who lead or guide”, not boss around with mere human authority like a ruler or policeman. As Jesus’ said in Luke 22:26-27: The most important one of you should be like the least important, and one who leads (hegoumenos) should be like a servant (diakonos), as Jesus himself demonstrated in his leadership.

Plurality of leaders always in the New Testament – we never read of the leader of a local church. This models and reflects the heavenly community of Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, a community of love, submission, communication and fellowship. We have seen that the community addressed by the author of this letter, looks nothing like your average Western church known today.

Nevertheless, leaders do have authority, a spiritual authority, not imposed by someone higher up—unless that one is Jesus! This authority has been imparted to them by the Lord, not by some chief pastor man or bishop, and that authority is evidenced in their lives, recognised. So they should be listened to and the hearers persuaded by their wisdom and gentle manner of life, their maturity, their holiness.

Leaders together bear extra responsibility—they must give account to God, not to some human official, because they watch over you—they must stay awake, they are to be alert to threats of strange teachings. It is because their accountability is to God and not to a human or some vague idea of ‘church’, they should be listened to with great seriousness.

The original word behind the NIV’s “submit” is hupeiko occurring only here in the entire N.T. But the common Greek word for “submit” was hupotasso. The word used here, hupeiko means “to yield, give way, concede”, that is, to yield to persuasion and to good mentoring as we have already seen.

So, “serving” the body as a leader must be done by loving persuasion (as confirmed by Peter and Paul in their letters) and by the example of a Christ-filled life. Coercive leadership would be totally opposite to that of Jesus. Leaders who remain alert and watchful, whose desire is care for people and pray for their welfare and who live as godly examples will have their respect, their attention and will easily persuade them to listen seriously to their urgings. Further, our author asks,

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honourably in every way.  I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon. (13:18-19, NIV)

For the first time, the author mentions himself and we get some insight into his character which includes his need and request for their prayers. Here is a leader who is humble enough to need the prayers of the people in this community – like Paul in many of his letters. And also note the word we, again plurality.

Here also is the first mention of the word pray. But of course, he has already spoken at great length about our need to come boldly, with overflowing confidence, to our great high priest who reigns in absolute sovereignty. Does the use of the word prayer bring up a negative vibe in our minds? Then forget the word prayer—use another term like request or appeal  and get back to enjoying the presence of God in Christ, our great high priest who welcomes us into the wonderful sanctuary, envisaged so beautifully in the previous passages of this letter. This is critical for us, such a privilege –to think we can speak to the living God! and that he wants us to come to Him with our requests! Think what it means to ask, what good things will come from our seeking and what benefits for ourselves from our persistent knocking!

The subject of requests to the Lord that the apostles put is always interesting. Along with the other apostles, our author asks that his readers appeal to God for us. Such requests again underline the absolute and consistent idea that we need one another, whether apostles or unknown disciples. We cannot be independent or an island in this.  The foreign, strange idea of a clergy caste encourages Christian leaders to be self-driven and aloof from the “sheep”. Thus in verse 19 the writer expresses his longing to see his loved brothers and sisters again.

We are to see ourselves as all sheep under one Shepherd, Jesus the Lord.

Our sacrifices and offerings

Here’s a bit more from chapter 13 of The Letter to the Hebrews. I repeat here what is eminently repeatable :

Jesus’ once-for-all offering is unrepeatable!

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.  Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.  For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (13:11-14)

Our author refers back to the Jewish cultic practices of Leviticus. He draws a parallel between the necessity to burn the remains of the bodies of the sacrificed animals outside the camp and the Lord Jesus the Messiah suffering outside the city gate. This is a remarkable parallel. What shame Jesus suffered for us and what humiliation to be cast outside society as if an accursed guilty one.

It has been made perfectly clear in this letter, that only Jesus’ blood can make them holy—and so it does! But there is a cost for them, a sacrifice, a call to gladly join him outside the man-made camp, the temporary city, the formal, now empty, religious system and share in and bear his disgrace from the unbelieving opponents of Jesus’ eternally noble offering. Opponents who will mock and sneer and cast them out. So we too are called to go outside with him.


For many reading this who are still locked up in an institutionalised, static, rule-driven, denominational based or clergy dominated ‘church’, this is a call to join our beloved Jesus outside the camp, outside the ‘secure’ (?), programmed, professionally led citified, temporary edifice. To join Jesus along with others who are determined to worship God in God’s way, to obey him according to his design for church, his Body, his family, his household, given once for all to the apostles.  Yes, there is a design for growth, for maturity, and here there is the companionship of Jesus, here the resources of the Holy Spirit.

You can understand the design plan easily from the N.T. writings. The problem is our disobedience, our reluctance to join Jesus in his movement outside the known and traditional ways. To suffer the disgrace he bore by identifying with him.

Like the heroes of the Old Covenant the author listed for us, we look not to a city here, but the city that is to come. Our holy place is the presence of Jesus in our lives, in our shared experience. No earthly aesthetic can substitute for the Holy Spirit. We too live by faith and in the meantime waiting for his return, we enjoy the promised rest. Joining him ‘outside’, leaving all to follow him, Jesus has assured his disciples that anyone who gives up (sacrifices) home …

or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or land for me and for the good news will be rewarded. In this world they will be given a hundred times as many houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and pieces of land, though they will also be mistreated. And in the world to come, they will have eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30, C.E.V.)

Our author continues the Old Testament cultic metaphors in terms of the sacrifices now to be offered to God by his people under this glorious New Covenant, this new and living way.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (13:15-16)

So what sacrifices do we present to God under the New Covenant along with our believing Hebrew brothers and sisters?

Firstly, our offerings are made through Jesus! Our only mediator.  They are not offered to God through a church or through a liturgy. And they are offered continually, not temporary like the old. He is worthy that we offer right sacrifices constantly. These are not one-offs. We do not stop. And because Jesus is still the same and forever, we also are to offer up to God sacrifices that please God here and now in the 21st century.

This offering is identified as what comes out of our mouths when we confess before others openly that name above all names. By doing this we promote and advertise his greatness, his wonder. For our band of Hebrew brothers and sisters, this was indeed often a costly sacrifice living as they did in a society opposed to their great high priest. For us also this can be costly but it is a sacrifice so pleasing to God. Let your name be hallowed.

Similarly, it is a pleasing sacrifice to God for us to be sharing with others, to be generous, and doing good, like our Master before us. So it is not only what comes from our lips but what comes from our hands in helping and serving others, out of thankful, praising hearts. Paul’s words in his letter to Romans (ch 12:1-8) again come to mind. It’s not only with our lips but in our lives lived out here on earth. Let your will be done on earth.

However, there is a teaching in some circles, that what comes out of the mouth is of inferior worth to what comes from the work of our hands. Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying to his followers they should preach the gospel, if possible without using words. Such an idea can minimise the sacrifice of praise with the lips, giving people a false sense of righteousness through silence. Of course, there can be a hollowness about us if our actions do not match our words and there are times when speaking is not appropriate. Both kinds, honouring God with our lips and our works, are acceptable to God.

We are called to offer up pleasing sacrifices to God. These sacrifices that we offer up to God must be those he has called for. Under the Old Covenant cultic system, strange offerings carried severe penalties. Under the New Covenant, it is no less important to offer up sacrifices that please God, that is, those he has indicated through the words of Jesus and the apostles. And there is one sacrifice that can never be repeated and to try to re-enact that is an abomination, an insult to the gracious, finished work of Jesus, the Lamb of God.

So let’s leave behind any dodgy, worldly inspired, man-conceived practices, those traditions we think are acceptable (‘but we like doing these things’) and obey the word of the Lord in offering sacrifices we are sure are pleasing to Him.

Leaders, the led and the leadings

We are into the closing part of the Letter to the Hebrews and the author has some more practical and relevant things to say. From 13:7:

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

This letter is written to the whole community—not to a leader or leaders as we might expect in our subverted, industrialised Christianity of today. Here, they are all exhorted to think about their leaders’ teaching—these leaders spoke the word of God to you. The tense of the Greek verb spoke points back to the one time when they were first brought the life-changing message of Jesus, the living word of God. There is often the need to remember the beginning of our walk with the Lord and reflect onwhether we are still solidly in step with the Master.

They are to consider the outcome of their [leaders] way of life. Our author is confident that their leaders are leading lives worthy of imitation. So they can be imitated—not slavishly but considering them, and not legalistically—which would transport them very quickly out of their blessed Jesus-rest, out of the Presence. We receive Jesus through one another. We need one another. What a responsibility this is. Many will not address this preferring to shelter behind “the church” whatever that is, or slavishly follow the man or woman at the top. That’s horribly unbiblical.

We have here a plurality of leaders—there is no single leader, no single minister. Here there is no one called a ‘priest’ or ‘vicar’ or ‘minister’ or ‘pastor’. This is the case with all the groups meeting in New Testament times. Mono-ministry is foreign to the churches of the first century, a strange teaching. They knew what God wanted—a mature people not carried away by strange teachings. Consider this : a collegiate leadership is much less likely to embrace strange teachings. And where there is mutual sharing with each member participating in building up the whole body there are safeguards against error. There is wisdom in a multitude of counsellors. Their accountability is mutual and all submit to Jesus himself.

Plurality of leaders in the local community of believers wonderfully reflects the heavenly community of the Godhead. That fact alone must carry enormous weight for the way our local churches should be cared for. Leadership in the heavenly sense matches the biblical way and must of necessity be reflected in our local churches. To act otherwise is sheer disobedience. We leaders will need to give account for our practices before the Lord of glory. Furthermore what is not of God will be discovered and will not survive in judgment.

 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so.  We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. (Heb 13:8-10)

The teaching they received from the start was on Jesus, alone our only mediator, our ultimate leader. So we can say with them Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. This same Jesus who walked here on our planet, now reigns forever in the heavenly place. This is the same Jesus who told his disciples that heaven and earth would sooner pass away, than his words!

This is the same Jesus whom our author introduced us to at the very start of his letter as the appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe, the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. This is the same Jesus who after he had provided purification for sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Did you get that? Did you see the implications of such a statement? Yesterday and today and forever. And now this! : The great Hebrew name of God revealed to Moses in the desert I am who I was, I am whom I am, I am whom I shall be, the Eternal Now, is here applied to Messiah Jesus!

He never changes, guaranteed, and because he committed his teachings to a people, to many, not to an individual, we must not change that teaching, nor add to it, but contend for the truth entrusted to us by his apostles. That is why it is critical that we read and consider deeply their written teachings and put them into practice in our lives and in our corporate life in Jesus together.

This is of great and profound importance. Heed it, or be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.

We do indeed have an altar, a better one. It is the death of Jesus on the cross. This altar alone makes us holy and acceptable to God, our hearts strengthened by his grace. To replace this by anything else – by ceremony or ritual or the words of so-called priests or popes, by strange teachings, by dominant leadership, by demanded obedience is a scandal, it is pathetic.

Jesus’ life, death and living presence is the real altar, the real Presence, not a shadow or a symbol. There is no apostolic mandate for anyone to speak of an “altar” as a piece of furniture in a man-made building. “Altar” always denotes a place of sacrifice, of death, and it is insulting to the Lord in the extreme to imagine or teach that Jesus’ body –or anybody for that matter, is offered now —unless this author is to be regarded as totally deceived, along with all the apostolic writers. Jesus’ once for all offering is unrepeatable. Yet the benefits flow forever for all who trust him.

Here is an extraordinary statement for a Hebrew to make : those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat from this altar that has been granted us! Truly, these Hebrew believers, and we also today, eat his flesh and drink his blood by believing on him and following him, by living our lives immersed in him and his in us, anywhere, everywhere, his Presence.

We are continually seated at table with Jesus our great high priest and pioneer, the author and finisher of our faith.

Good practical instructions

We now look at the final chapter of this marvellous letter to the Hebrew believers. There are many important things for the author to share with this Messianic community.

Our author does not think we should be only heavenly minded and of no earthly use. On the contrary, the response of those who believe, who enter Jesus’ rest, who draw near into his presence, is to love the brothers and sisters, practice hospitality, care for those in prison and who suffer, maintain sexual purity,  and honour marriage.

So, we read these words from the start of chapter 13 verses 1-4.

 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.  Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.  Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.  

We see here once again the imperative of maintaining a shared experience together in Christ : keep on loving the brothers and sisters— the original has maintain brotherly love and emphasizes the need for keeping up love for one another, as though they were literally siblings.  In our precious fellowships we must go out of our way to express love for one another. Tokenism will not do. Love must be genuine. The first Christians drew this famous response from outsiders: Look how these Christians love one another. Here is the very stamp, the essence of Christ’s community, God’s household, his family. This family certainly, definitely, transcends the earthly. “Focus on the family”? Well here is the true family and the true focus asked of us by God our Father.

They must also practise such caring for those of their number in prison or being mistreated, just as if they were suffering themselves! Sublime solidarity— this reminds us of Jesus’ suffering at the hands of those who, like Saul, persecuted his (Jesus’) brothers and sisters : Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (see Acts 9:4-5)

Like the other New Testament writers, he stresses the sanctity of marriage and the need for sexual purity. Marriage must be honoured among God’s people. Today, godly marriage is under assault and everywhere in our society we see sexual purity being undermined and compromised. The challenge lies before us: to demonstrate to a lost society how brilliant is God’s matchless design in the marriage of a man and a woman. How joyous it is! How comfortable it is! How much pleasure it yields! How heavenly! How fortunate we are who enjoy marriage! It is yet another of His wonderful ideas.

By contrast, how dismal is its reverse. How destructive is adultery. How pathetic is unbridled lust. How full of darkness is unlove. How transient is infatuation. How selfish and hellish is manipulation and dominance. How lonely is the unloved and neglected and unpraised.

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” [Deut. 31:6]   So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?” [Psalm 118:6,7]

Contentment with what they have, will surely arise from the nature of God who is their helper, who will never forsake them, and who is also their provider. They are his own people, the sheep of his pasture. So there is no need to love money. No need to maintain a constant lifestyle of having to acquire things.

As we read these counter-cultural admonitions are we hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit? Are we applying these things in our hearts?  Caring for one another in the Body of Christ will give plenty of opportunity for generosity and hilarious giving, abandoning all stinginess and an independent spirit. There is no better way to keep yourself from the love of money than giving it away. The giver gains ever so much, as much, or even more, as the receiver! It is a liberating experience.

Join this group of happy people we read of here! Make haste to be one of those whose God is not money, not sex, not power, but whose God is the Lord in the face of Jesus the Messiah. Who actually know their God and relate to him through the offering of Jesus he made while here on earth. And who continues to bear our burdens, hear our cries and supply his Spirit upon us and in us.

Join us!

Serious gritty pleas

In The Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12, we are encouraged to fix our sight on Jesus who has run the race of life before us and resist the hardships that come with our running.

The people of Israel in the desert journey complained over their hardships and as a result, they forfeited their place of rest and security in the Promised Land. But our author has shown us the many men and women of the Old Testament who lived by faith and kept their hope alive in spite of many serious hardships. Grumbling and getting angry with God, losing faith in the only Name given to mankind to save, does nothing to help. That is a total waste of time and energy. Doesn’t move God one millimetre.

Where else can we run to, but Jesus? Tell me, where!

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.  See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.  Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done. Hebrews 12: 14-17.

Though it is only by God’s grace that peace and holiness becomes our present experience, we cannot expect this without making every effort like an athlete preparing for the race and running it. The writer is emphatic: without holiness no one will see the Lord. Scary, eh? But let’s not pull this saying out of the context of this entire letter. Our author has repeatedly driven home the truth that we are holy by our determined participation in the Lord Jesus himself and his offering for us. What a joy! What a victory! What a Saviour!

So much the more ought we to cling to Jesus in faith and in him alone for entire holiness, and not throw away what has been wonderfully given to us, or lose what we have attained. We do want to see the Lord!

Look, this is serious. It’s your future we are addressing. Don’t you get it?

The next two or three exhortations are made to all in their community to care for one another: see to it that no one … Such responsibility is not left to an official, priest, or pastor (note here God’s great design for spiritual maturity of all, not just a few). No, they as a whole community were expected to ensure everyone among them knew the grace of God and that nothing was allowed to defile them—unforgiving hearts, disunity, disagreements, jealousies, envy, comparing people, gossip, etc. This is said to defile the many—to spread through the whole ‘loaf’, a condition endemic in many churches  today due to lack of one-another-ness. We each have a responsibility to care for one another, to watch over one another in love and tenderness and sometimes firmness. This the Lord expects! It’s not an optional extra. In most churches  it’s unheard of.

Then they are to see that no one is sexually immoral or godless! What a challenge this is! Earnest prayer at least is called for one another and especially for one who is entangled. The solution is not to disown that one, or to ignore such, leaving this work to some paid official. But to weep for that one, and bring that one without ceasing into the holy place of the Lord of which we have learned so much in this precious letter. That place is nothing like the old, terrifying, Mt Sinai and the Law of Moses. No!

 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm;  to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them,  because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”    But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  Hebrews 12:18-24.

No. They are told they have come to a different mountain altogether! God’s full salvation belongs not under the law given at Mt Sinai but to a different mountain—the true, transcendent Mount Zion. Here is the great good news! This is the place to bring our tempted and faltering friends. We must plead with such to join with us in fellowship again with the Father and with the Son and with countless others who have gone before.

There is no other place in the spirit for us to be. It is the city of the living God! It is the true Jerusalem, of which the earthly Jerusalem was a mere shadow. Here we join in with millions of other created beings in an assembly of lasting, everlasting joy.  We join in now. You have come!

You have come! You have come to the church (ekklesia=assembly) of the firstborn ones. At this gathering are those of faith who have gone there before us, both Jew and Gentile, as one new nation. Here in this passage, is the second of two uses of the Greek word ekklesia in this letter (the other was in Heb 2:12), and neither has any correspondence whatsoever with the word church ­in common language use today.

The firstborn are those who inherit the Father’s kingdom, assembled before him, to God the Judge of all, and in the cheerful company of those having been made utterly complete! Who would want to pass up this altogether magnanimous offer—to stand before the Judge of all as acceptable. No more! even as royal offspring?

And the ultimate experience for them and for us as we participate, is the presence of Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant, the totally wonderful arrangement made by his sacrifice, the sprinkling of his blood, broadcasting to us a far superior offering compared to Abel’s, though that, too was acceptable to God.

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?  At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”  The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”  Hebrews 12:25-28

God is the God who speaks to be heard and we must take heed. This is the One who spoke and the universe was made! We hear him now, not just on earth as at Sinai, but everywhere in the heavens which declare daily his glory, his mercy, his compassion.

If those who ignored earthly warnings didn’t get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on heavenly warnings? (The Message, Eugene Petersen). There will be a greater shaking, a greater disclosure, a greater removal, a total removal, of the temporary. What will remain for us? Only the eternal.

What will be left in us at the End? Only what God has done in us. Nothing else.

So our response is to be thankful and to serve God (‘worship’ means ‘serve’) with reverence and awe. It is a fearful thing to remember that our service must be acceptable to God. Again from The Message:

He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!

As we said, this is serious. It’s your future we are addressing. Get it?