In closing, the writer of Hebrews outlined seven exhortations for living daily by faith, beginning with the encouragement that all these heroes of our faith act as a cloud of witnesses—past runners—cheering us on from the sidelines in the amphitheater of heaven, as we run the race of life.
- Focus on Christ, Hebrews 12:1-3
- Welcome God’s Discipline, Hebrews 12:4-13
- Keep Our Relationships Right, Hebrews 12:14-17
- Trust in God’s Promises
- Treat Brothers and Sisters Well
6) Remain Solid in the Truth
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them.
We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat.
For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood.
Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.
For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.Hebrews 13:8-16 (NRSV)
There is so much in those few verses!
When you and I are faced with a teaching that seems strange, it is confusing us and troubling us, we have some options.
- We start with what we know, and most often that means going back to what we know about God’s attributes, character, and values. Does this new teaching uphold what we know about God? Or does it, in some way, diminish God, or demean God? Anything that downsizes or downgrades God is not a good and true teaching.
- Does the strange teaching in some way add to or subtract from the gospel? Paul was adamant, in his letter to the Galatians, that such a teaching was to be vigorously resisted. Go back to God through God’s word, to what you already know for sure is true, and meditate on that, pray about it; don’t get carried away by the strange teaching.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.
But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!
As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!Galatians 1:6-9 (NRSV)
- We have the Holy Spirit to guide us in understanding what we are hearing and to discern whether it is from the Lord, or some other source. The Apostle John reminded his readers “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
- We can turn to those we know and trust, who have proven themselves wise and knowledgeable in the scriptures. Most often, you and I cannot get the whole picture unless we ask others for their perspectives as well.
The writer’s reference to these particular strange teachings seems to have been about the food regulations found in the Hebrew Testament, particularly those concerning “clean” and “unclean” food. This was an enormous issue in the Christian community, because those of Jewish background—rightly—wanted to live as close to God’s word as they could, as they most likely had done all their lives. But the Christians with non-Jewish backgrounds had never dealt with these food regulations, and found them both onerous and restrictive.
Jesus had already been preparing His followers to understand that God was opening the Kingdom of Heaven to all people by saying such things as,
“Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)Jesus, Mark 7:18-19 (NRSV)
Soon after He said this, a Syrophoenician woman approached Jesus to heal her daughter, and after Jesus had done so He commended her for her faith, illustrating His point.
Then, on the day Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave His followers a directive to bring the good news to every corner of the earth. To start in Jerusalem, but then to spread out into Judea, then Samaria, and then everywhere.
And they did!
But first, God gave Peter a vision so he could understand how literal, and how important Jesus’ statement about food was. Not only was it deeply symbolic, it was also meant to spearhead a new movement of unity in the whole Body of Christ.
Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance.
He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air.
Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”
But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”
The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.Acts 10:9-16 (NRSV)
Of course, right afterwards, there was a knock on the door, and when Peter answered it, he knew something astounding was about to happen. A centurion and his family came to faith in Jesus that day, and God gave them all the Holy Spirit. It was an event that rocked the Jerusalem church to its core, eventually requiring the first ever all-church council to decide how to handle the inclusion of non-Jewish converts.
But God had also conscripted the Apostle Paul to bring the good news to those outside the Jewish faith! And Paul had much to say about how to navigate all the strange teachings dealing with food. He wrote extensively on the subject in three different letters. To the believers in Rome and in Corinth, and in his letter to the believers in Galatia.
When Cephas [the Apostle Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.
And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”Galatians 2:11-14 (NRSV)
Now, the writer of Hebrews was addressing this matter as well.