New Year’s Resolutions?

bird_7391cNew year’s resolutions can be a very good thing, though too often they don’t last. Hebrews 13:1-6 sets some high expectations for you as a believer, but they run much deeper than simply resolutions to live better.

Why should you live differently? You have come to Mount Zion. Hebrews describes that as a statement of fact. Now he shows you how you should live because the heavenly Zion is where you belong. It is truly where you worship. The Bible does tell you a lot about how you should live—but being good is never the basis for your salvation. Rather, it flows out of the indicative, the statement of what God has done for you in Christ. He has brought you to Mount Zion, he is giving you an unshakable kingdom—now live that way.

On the other side of the text is an additional reason for living differently. You belong to Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. The focus is not on you or even on your salvation, but on Jesus Christ. Live as one who belongs to him.

What should you do? Continue to show brotherly love. Love is the fulfilling of the law. It is a command found in the Old Testament, Leviticus 19:18. Christ quotes it a summary of the law, Matthew 22:36-40. Paul summarizes the law the same way, Romans 13:8-10. It characterizes Christians, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 10. Your love for your brothers shows you love for God, 1 John 2:9,10; 3:14-18. “This command [to let brotherly love continue] is very necessary in this generation because nothing evaporates more easily than love when everyone looks after himself more than his wife and gives less consideration to others. Moreover many offenses occur every day to separate us. He calls it brotherly, not only to say that we ought to be joined together by peculiar and intimate feelings of love, but to remind us that we can only be Christians if we are brethren. He speaks of love which the household of faith ought to cultivate towards one another, in the same way as the Lord has bound them together more closely by the common bonds of adoption.” (John Calvin, The Epistle to the Hebrews, on Heb. 13:1).

Love is not just a feeling. It is action. Be hospitable. Don’t forget to entertain strangers. Hospitality was highly regarded by the Old Testament Israelites. It is expected of elders, 1 Timothy 3:2. It is not to be extended to heretics, 2 John 10,11. You may entertain angels, Genesis 18, Judges 6:11; 13:3. Extend hospitality–and discover that you are blessed far more than you receive. “He is not necessarily encouraging his readers to expect that those whom they entertain will turn out to be supernatural beings traveling incognito; he is assuring them that some of their visitors will prove to be true messengers of God to them, bringing a greater blessing than they receive.” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT, p. 391). The prisoners may well have been incarcerated because of their relationship to Christ. Be prepared! Care for those suffering adversity. The early Christians showed great concern for the suffering in the church. Christ expects this of you, Matthew 25:37-40. You are one body. The suffering of one member affects all.

Honor marriage. This is a particular application of the command to love. Marriage is divinely ordained, and is holy and good. God instituted the first marriage in Eden, before the fall. It is not a concession to sin. Marriage reflects the relationship between the Lord and his people. Those for whom the sacrifice of Christ has been offered must be pure. Guard your life, protect your marriage against the things which chip away at it. Understand the self-centered spirit of our culture—and resist it. A Washington Post article, headlined, “How to break free from monogamy without destroying marriage,” tells the story of Jessie: “Her first marriage, in her early 20s, had ended after an affair. (Hers.) Her second marriage, started shortly thereafter, was ‘happy — very happy,’ but as her boys grew up and moved out and moved on, she was left faintly bored.” Thus she uses an app to find relationships. Because God ordained marriage, because God’s people live in the presence of God, God punishes immorality, Ephesians 5:5-6.

Be content. Although coveting of any kind is prohibited (the 10th Commandment is broad), it is specifically the love of money that is included here, the desire for wealth that is not yours, 1 Timothy 6:10. Coveting is idolatry, Ephesians 5:5.

How can you do it? Remember that God will never forsake you. Joshua was about to assume the task of leading Israel into a land where the blatant paganism and immorality makes anything in our culture pale by comparison. How would he do so? Deuteronomy 31:6 and 8 assure both Joshua and the people that God will not forsake them. How much more true is that for you who have the direct presence of God in Christ Jesus! Hebrews 13:5 is truly God speaking.

So, be confident in the Lord. Hebrews quotes the assurance of the Psalmist (118:6), the presence of God that marks the heart of God’s covenant relationship with his people. God is with you in the person of his Son. What greater help could he give? Your response must be obedience, regardless of consequences. Obedience may be costly, but remember that God is with you.

God is with you. Therefore love him–and those around you. Be content, for you have the greatest riches in Christ Jesus.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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