The writer has spent twelve chapters highlighting that the new covenant is so much better than the old covenant. But with the privileges of such a great covenant come great ethical responsibilities. Hebrews 13 identifies some of these.
These covenantal responsibilities are, for the most part, lived out in community with other believers.
If chapters 1–12 aim to ground the Christian in the great commandment to love God, then this final chapter aims at exhorting us to fulfil the second great commandment: to love our neighbour—with particular reference to loving our Christian neighbour.
In v. 1, continual love of the brethren is the fundamental commandment. Everything else through v. 17 is a practical expression of this love. These verses can broadly be divided into four distinct sections, each of which takes the form of a warning.
First, there is a warning against individualism (vv. 1–3). This warning takes on a twofold appeal: to hospitality (vv. 1–2) and to empathy (v. 3).
Second, he issues a warning against immorality and encourages them to pursue purity and chastity (v. 4).
Third, we find a warning against idolatry, which takes the form of an exhortation to generosity (vv. 5–6).
Fourth, the writer offers a warning against insolence, exhorting his readers to loyalty to their spiritual leaders (vv. 7–17).
The question is, why this warning?
The gospel of God strikes at the heart of our problem: self. The gospel is the power of God saving us from sin and self; it is the power of God delivering us from eternal ruin due to our love of self. You see, we sin because we love ourselves more than we love God.
Augustine observed that sin is fundamentally “inordinate affection.” Because we do not love God we therefore love the wrong things. But this inordinate love is in fact a vacuous love. To quote a fifty-year-old song, because we do not love God we find that we “can’t get no satisfaction.” Yet this futility does not stop us from the incessant pursuit of self-gratification. We call this covetousness. But as we have all experienced, such “coveting breeds discontent, and [we find] that gaining what one desires does not bring contentment. Gratification is not the path to satisfaction.”1 But, enter the gospel!
When we are born again, our affections change and love for God and others begins to dominate our disposition. We increasingly are characterised by contentment rather than covetousness. Yet we are in constant need of exhortations to grow in this area. Hence passages like Hebrews 13.
Money, Get Back
Each imperative in Hebrews 13:1–6 combats our tendency to self-love. And as we will see in this study, if we truly love God and one another we will do serious battle against the soul-destroying self-gratification associated with the love of money.
Paul addressed the same sinful temptation in a letter to a young pastor. He said that the Christian is to approach the problem of covetousness with this mindset: “Having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). In other words, if you have these basics, you have enough. The Christian is content precisely because he or she realises that enough is enough. Timothy needed to learn this lesson, these Hebrew Christians needed to learn it, and I dare say that you and I need to learn it as well. May we do so in this study.
May the Lord use this study to convince us that, in fact, enough really is enough!
The Command We Must Heed
In the first part of v. 5, we find two important instructions: negatively, against covetousness; and, positively, to contentment.
Do Not be Covetous
First, the writer exhorts, “Let your conduct be without covetousness” (v. 5). Literally this phrase reads, “let your manner of life be without the love of silver.” The ESV helpfully expresses the meaning: “Keep your life free from love of money.”
Other versions translate “love of silver” as “covetousness.” This is a good translation, but for accuracy’s sake, covetous is a wider problem than a merely craving for money. Though we can fairly apply the concept here, it does seem that the writer is more concerned about materialism than, say, coveting another man’s wife or position or prestige. Yet, having said that, it is interesting that, having spoken of adultery, he now speaks of the love of money.
The New Testament elsewhere also connects the love of money with sexual sin (Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5). Both are sins of the flesh. And both are destructive to one’s faith.
The Reason for the Command
These believers were undergoing persecution and some had even experienced the plundering of their goods (10:34). When things get tight, we can be tempted to hang on more tightly to that which is left. And when loving silver takes root in our heart then loving the saints will cease to be a priority. In other words, brotherly love will hardly continue (v. 1) if love of money captures our hearts. No doubt, one of the underlying motives for this exhortation was to encourage these believers of their responsibility for generosity.
The vast majority of us are not experiencing this kind of persecution for our faith. Nevertheless, the warning is as relevant as ever. Jesus made it clear that it is impossible to serve both God and mammon (Matthew 6:24).
This term signified wealth as an evil influence or as a false object of worship and devotion. It was taken by medieval writers as the name of the “devil of covetousness.” But whatever its etymology, the fact remains that the love of money, not money itself, is “a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:7–10). Indeed, as Paul continues, loving silver has led many to apostasy. He writes that, because of the love of money, “some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Doubtless, the author of Hebrews is concerned about the same danger.
Throughout the letter, this matter of drifting from Christ has been a major concern. Here it still is. The concern was not only a doctrinal one but also a material. When we begin to lose what we can see, we may be tempted to doubt what we cannot see. And it is at precisely such a time that we need to avoid the idolatry of things.
A Question of Character
We need to pause to understand that the commandment here is with reference to our way or manner of living. It is a matter of our disposition towards our lot in life. As we will see, the Christian is called to a disposition that demonstrates satisfaction in an otherwise unsatisfying world. This is more than a call to simply give more money and to not be greedy. Rather, this command is a matter of character.
When the apostle Paul highlighted the character qualities for those who desire to serve in the office of an elder, he mentioned such things as hospitality, moral purity and the need to shun the love of money (1 Timothy 3:3). These are character issues. They are practical and identifiable tests of whether one is loving God and, by extension, loving the flock. If a man is characterised by greed and opulence or as tight-fisted, he is disqualified to lead the church. Why? Because, obviously, if he is captured by that which is fallen and fading, how will he ever succeed in leading others any differently?
But having acknowledged this for elders, we should realise that the character described in passages such as 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–8 is to be the goal of every Christian, male or female, young or old, and regardless of whether you are gifted to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9).
In other words, how you approach money and things material is a character issue. How is character?
Constructively Concerned or Covetously Consumed?
Doubtless, this is a struggle for all of us. And perhaps many of us are especially feeling this temptation at this particular time.
There are serious concerns about escalating prices. Many are struggling with anxiety over their retirement plans. Parents are worrying about the future for their children. Concern is one thing. A covetous response is quite another.
As a church, we have recently experienced a significant dip in our missions giving. I wonder if this plummet is in some way related to this. Have economic concerns perhaps trumped an eternal perspective? Has a covetous lifestyle hindered our missiological opportunities? If so, what shall we do? How shall we then live?
I’m glad you asked. The latter part of v. 5 through v. 6 tells us.
Do Be Content
God never leaves a vacuum. He supplies a thesis to the antithesis. We see this here. He reinforces one exhortation with another exhortation: “Be content with such things as you have” (v. 5).
Here, the Lord tells us that the way to overcome dissatisfaction is by a deeper satisfaction. We overcome covetousness by contentment. But what does this mean? What does it look like? Let’s flesh this out.
Satisfied with What We Have
This is not, by the way, a curtailment of proper ambition. The writer is not advocating passivity when it comes to work and the acquiring of funds. In fact, I would argue that the Bible teaches that, under the right circumstances, the Christian should make all the money he can in order to invest in the extension of the kingdom all that he can. But such a pursuit will only come about if we learn contentment with what we presently have. As Donald Guthrie says, “Contentment means more than passive acceptance of the inevitable. It involves a positive recognition that money is relative.”2
If you are not characterised as content with your current lot in life then you will not be satisfied no matter how many lots you end up with.
The Strength of Satisfaction
It is vital that we understand the meaning of the word “content.”
Of course, the idea of being satisfied is inherent in the term. We are to have a disposition that says that whatever we have is, by God’s gracious providence, enough. In fact, this word is translated several times by the word “sufficient” or “enough” in the New Testament (Matthew 6:34; 10:25; 25:9; John 6:7; 2 Corinthians 12:9).
The meaning of the term gives the lie to the idea that the attitude is that of the unambitious, careless person. Thayer points out that the Greek word means “to be possessed of unfailing strength; to be strong.” He fleshes this out further as he highlights that the word picture is that of “having enough as against any danger.” Boiling this down to a workable definition we might say that to be content is to be so convinced that you have all you need that you have no worries about any dangers ahead.
Being content, in other words, empowers you to ward off any worries. Wow! What a disposition to have!
Of course, in our day, and particularly in our culture, billions of Rands are spent precisely because we are worried about not having enough. Because we do not possess unfailing strength to be satisfied with what we have, we strive for more and more; and spiritually we become weaker and weaker. You see, it is a security thing. It is a values thing.
The writer was not unsympathetic to the financial, material pressures these believers were facing. However, he was convinced that, in having Christ, they really did have enough—even if the surrounding society was saying otherwise.
One of the weakest men who ever lived was John D. Rockefeller. When asked how much money is enough his answer was, “One more dollar.” And many, even paupers, have proven to be as weak as him.
You see, those who are strong, according to this passage (and others), are those whose disposition is not tossed to and fro by the rise and fall of the JSE or by interest rates and inflation indicators. Instead, those who have Christ as their acknowledged Lord and Saviour, and who consequently trust Him to supply them with enough to live godly in this present world, are the strong ones. They are able to ward off the worries and anxieties that threaten those who never think they have enough.
We All Have Enough
Before proceeding, let us acknowledge that we all have enough. And therefore we are to be content—even when we are not sure that we have enough!
For example, as things stand now with reference to our monthly budgeted missions giving, we as a church actually do not have enough. So how should we respond? According to this passage, as a congregation, we should be content. We should continue to trust the Lord, who promises to meet our needs. And part of that trust concerns relying on Him to help our community of faith to grow strong in the Lord to such an extent that those among us who are loving silver will cease to do so. At the same time, others will learn that they can be faithful and what they have will prove to be enough. In other words, we should view the current situation as a challenge, not as a defeat. We should view it as an indicator that we need to work on growing in grace to overcome unnecessary and debilitating anxiety.
We should view our current situation as a wonderful opportunity to exercise faith and to learn that, really, enough is enough.
But is there more that will help us in this pursuit? Again, I’m glad you asked!
The Conviction We Must Develop
There is a conviction behind our contentment: “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (v. 5).
Here, God supplies the theological key to overcome the inordinate love of silver. “A life unhampered by the love of money will reflect a contentment that is theologically grounded.”3 To cut to the chase, if we will be consistently and therefore constructively content, we must be convinced of this covenantal reality: God cares for His people. God cares for us. God cares for you and me. He cares for our community of faith because we are His community of faith. This is precisely what this text reveals.
This is a quotation of Deuteronomy 31:6 and/or Joshua 1:5. It is found in both. The point (and the original context) is the same in both instances: God will provide for His people.
As Israel stood on the border of the Promised Land, the Lord assured Moses and Joshua that He would be covenantally faithful to His people. Though both the immediate and distant future would present Israel with great challenges, nevertheless the Lord would be with them.
Obviously, the Lord is everywhere. But the promise of His presence was the promise of His provision; the promise of His gracious care. God never breaks covenant. And therefore what He promises He fulfils.
This same promise is carried over from the old covenant to the new. We have the wonderful assurance that the Lord will never leave us or forsake us. We must be convinced of this. And we are therefore to count on it. So, stop counting up and start counting on!
As I trust we are coming to understand more clearly, when Israel broke covenant with God they lost out on His blessing. They were captured and suffered great loss. In other words, the promise to them was conditional. They breached the conditions and forfeited the promise.
But under the new covenant, Jesus Christ has fulfilled all the conditions and therefore we can boldly claim this promise for all of time and for eternity. The point I am attempting to make is that, if we are convinced that the Lord is caring for us, then quite evidently we can conclude that enough is enough. We can conclude that we have all that we need, at least for now. We can rest in the promise of His gracious providence and we need not be distracted in our disposition by loving silver. As Jesus put it, we have sufficient for the day.
Never, No Never
The use of double negatives is a literary tool to emphasise a point. The Lord, who inspired these words, wants His children, His community of faith, to be convinced that He will care for us.
We who live in South Africa must listen to this text rather than to the sound bites of a pessimistic because faithless culture. Faithing must replace fleeing. Trust rather than travel should be guiding our decisions.
I understand the temptation to anxiety about the future of our children. But God is bigger than our economy. God is mightier than the forces of the job market. God can provide a banquet in the wilderness. Just look up the many passages that highlight God’s care for His people while they were in the wilderness (e.g. Deuteronomy 29:5; etc.)!
I am not suggesting that it is always wrong to emigrate. (In fact, I have!) There are many in our church who have fled their countries because of very real hardships, even persecution. There are examples in the Bible of godly people who have made the wise decision to leave a place. What I am saying is that we had better be sure of our motives. Is what God has given to us enough or not? Is He able to continue to give us enough? Are we running from one nation under the judgement of God for another nation also under the judgement of God? If safety and security are the motives, that may be legitimate. But financial security? I doubt it.
Before moving on, we must pause to drive home the all importance of being convinced from Scripture that the Lord is for us (Psalms 56:9; 118:7; Romans 8:31). Bruce comments, “The carefree contentment of which he speaks … springs from an intelligent trust in God and acceptance of His promises.”4
Jesus promised this (John 10:28–30). Paul experienced this (2 Timothy 4:16–17). John was an eyewitness to this (Revelation 1:1–10, etc.). And millions—billions—throughout church history have experienced this promise as well. As we become convinced of God’s concern and care for us then we will be content regardless of our circumstances. Again, just ask Paul (Philippians 4:11–13).
Communion and Conviction
I would argue that it is precisely when we are in difficult circumstances that we come to appreciate, in an amazing way, the providential presence of the Lord. When all have forsaken us, even our bank accounts (!), we find that the Lord is especially near and dear.
We must develop this conviction. And we do so by reading and meditating on Scripture. We do this as we gather with one another and share our life in Christ hearing of testimonies of God’s care. We do so by mingling with the larger “church of the firstborn” by reading biography and church history highlighting God’s faithful providence in times past.
God Cares for His Community through His Community
As we have seen throughout this epistle, the exhortations are to those who are connected in the community of faith. Some strongly argue that this was a house church, though the evidence, as far as I see it, is far from compelling. Nevertheless, the “let us” exhortations remind us that the writer expected these believers to run the race together (12:1–2).
The community of faith, the local church, is one of God’s providential means in which we experience His care; it is a significant means by which we learn that He will never leave us or forsake us. In other words, the Lord most often meets our needs through one another. The book of Acts particularly highlights this (see chapters 2, 4, 5, 6). But of course only a contented community will be a contributing community.
As each of us grows in the conviction that the Lord will care for us individually, we are in a better condition to care for one another corporately. Paul understood this. That is why he wrote, “my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). And what needs would those be? The needs created when we give sacrificially to meet Paul’s needs. The Philippians were God’s means to make sure that Paul had enough; Paul therefore assured them that the Lord would see to it that they have enough. Yes, enough is enough!
While visiting the United States, I recently had lunch with a pastor of another church and one of his church members. The pastor later told me that this particular church member is an executive with a major multinational company. Several years ago, he approached his pastor and told him that he had his wife had enough to live on. Together, they set a limit for what they needed to survive, and committed to give everything beyond that to the work of the kingdom. It was a wonderful testimony.
This man and his wife understand that God gives to us in order to give through us. They understand that the responsibility for the church to have enough is a shared one—literally.
Not everyone, of course shares, this perspective. Take, for example, a recent article that appeared on CNN.com, titled “How passing the plate becomes the ‘Sunday morning stickup’”. The article focuses on David Lee, author of Sunday Morning Stickup, who tells of a particular experience he had in a church setting of highly manipulative giving. The article also cites the example of Creflo Dollar, who recently appealed to his followers to donate toward the purchase of a $65m private jet. Piggybacking of these clearly unbiblical examples, the article continues:
If a pastor or church leader has ever told you that the Bible commands Christians to tithe or give 10% of their income; hit you up for multiple offerings during one service; made you march up front to give; asked you to donate to a mysterious “building fund” or give a “first-fruit” offering; or even given special recognition to big givers in your congregation, Lee and other pastors have a message for you:
You are getting played.
Though much could be said in response, let me note just a couple of things.
First, we must admit that, yes, sadly, tragically and shamefully, it is true that much greed and abuse and manipulation have littered the landscape of “Christian” stewardship over the years. Multiple offerings in a single service, “mysterious” funds, etc. might well be considered abusive. Certainly no recognition should be paid toward “big givers” in a particular congregation. Abuses are a reality. But this is no justification for broad brushing.
Second, the Bible does say a whole lot about the believer’s privilege and responsibility to give for the care of the community of faith—especially within the larger context of the hallowing of God’s name through the extension of His kingdom in space-time history. And responsible shepherds do not fail to instruct their flocks accordingly with integrity. One wonders whether those who have not learned that enough is enough are often grinding an axe in an attempt to justify their own idolatry.
But there is one more truth in this passage that empowers contentment.
The Confidence We Must Declare
The writer concludes this section: “So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (v. 6).
This verse is the quotation of Psalm 118:6. The psalm especially emphasises God’s everlasting mercies to His people. With such assurance the believer can face any trial, including the trial of what appears to be material shortage, with the confidence that the Lord will care for them. “This contentment has the firm foundation of God’s promise.”5 Let me put this into context.
To the degree that we are convinced of God’s covenantal commitment to us, we will have a matching confidence in His care for us. And contentment will be the consequence. Perhaps I can put it this way: When He’s enough, then enough is enough.
Augustine somewhere argued that it is dangerous for us to pray for all that we want until first we come to grips with the reality that God is all that we need. In other words, when the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is enough, then we truly have enough. This is at the heart of this quotation here in v. 6.
Once we are convinced that our God will always care for us (v. 5) then our response is to “boldly say, ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear.” After all, “what can mere man do to me?” He is enough. So enough with the vain temptations towards discontent and its bitter fruit of idolatrous defection, for, in fact, “a restless concern for money is perceived as a betrayal of trust in God.”6
If our confidence is in the Lord rather than in things, we will grow in our obedience to the great commandment and to the second greatest commandment. And to live in such a way is truly to be free.
But let’s note two aspects about this confidence.
Note that the writer says, “So that we may boldly say.” It is a choir of contentment, or a contented choir, that sings this confident tune.
We need to help one another to be content. We need to speak into one another’s lives when we detect the cancer of discontent creeping in. We need to remind each other of all that we have in Christ. On the other hand, we who have more than enough should let brotherly love continue by helping others to have enough. As someone reminded me this week, sharing is caring.
But the second issue implicit in this phrase will help us to experience such contented confidence.
Note: “So that we may boldly say.” The writer expects the verbalisation of this confidence, which informs our contentment. In other words, our conversation is to convey contentment.
The KJV translates v. 5, “Let your conversation be without covetousness.” “Conversation” is an old English word, which means “lifestyle” or “conduct.” But the idea of “conversation” in the sense of our speech is certainly not unrelated to our lifestyle. The way we talk, both in content and in tone, reveals a lot about us. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). My point is that our speech should reflect contentment not discontentment. We are not to be grumblers and complainers (Philippians 2:14); rather, we are to have our speech seasoned with grace (Colossians 4:6). Discontented people are graceless people. Brethren, this ought not to be (James 3:10)!
Be careful how you speak about your circumstances. Learn to be thankful. Learn to be satisfied and to speak in a satisfying way. Let us help one another with this.
Such confident communication of contentment is helpful as we seek to point others to Christ. As Brown says, “Ultimately, contentment becomes vocal.”7 And “in a selfishly ambitious society Christian contentment is a quality of great evangelistic worth. It reminds others that there is more to life than transitory success.”8
MacArthur is right when he says, “Discontentment is one of man’s greatest sins. Contentment is one of God’s greatest blessings.”9 So let’s wear the blessing well.
Those who are content are characterised by the following.
First, they are confident. We might say that they are faithful. They trust the Lord regardless of their circumstances.
Second, they are constant. We could say that they are fruitful—in season and out of season. They are like the person in Psalm 1 who continues to bring forth fruit in their season. Paul exemplified this when he said that he had learned to be content in all conditions (Philippians 4:11).
Third, they are courageous. That is, they behave fearlessly. I don’t mean that they do not have fear; rather, I mean that are not controlled by fear. They persevere in the face of challenges. They do not abandon ship but stay the course.
A wonderful example of this comes from the life of Chrysostom when he was threatened by the Roman Emperor. Chrysostom responded,
“Thou canst not banish me for this world is my father’s house.”
“But I will slay thee,” said the Emperor.
“Nay, thou canst not,” said the noble champion of the faith, “for my life is hid with Christ in God.”
“I will take away thy treasures.”
“Nay, but thou canst not for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.”
“But I will drive thee away from man and thou shalt have no friend left.”
“Nay, thou canst not, for I have a friend in heaven from whom thou canst not separate me. I defy thee; for there is nothing that thou canst do to hurt me.”10
Finally, and most importantly, they are Christlike. All of the above characterised the Lord Jesus. In spite of all He suffered, He remained faithful, fruitful and fearless. He accomplished all that the Father designed for Him. He maintained a God-centred affection and rejected all inordinate affection. May we do the same. And we can—if we have Christ as our Lord and Saviour.
Christian, you stand, both now and forever, forgiven because Jesus Christ stands both now and forever for you. This has been the overriding theme and burden of this epistle. Your name is registered in heaven and has been sealed there by the blood of Christ your Mediator. You are therefore blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies. So why would you not be content? Why in the world would we want to love silver when in Christ we truly have enough already?
May God grant us the grace to confidently say, “The Lord is my helper.” In other words, let us covet the contented conviction, enough is enough.
- Hywel Jones, Let’s Study Hebrews (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 150. ↩
- Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983), 271. ↩
- William L. Lane, Hebrews: Word Biblical Commentary, 2 vols. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 2:518. ↩
- F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 394. ↩
- Marcus Dods, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 5 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 4:376. ↩
- Lane, Hebrews, 2:518–19. ↩
- Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews: The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), 254. ↩
- Brown, The Message of Hebrews, 255. ↩
- John F. MacArthur, Jr., Hebrews: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1983), 434. ↩
- R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, 2 vols. (Wheaton: Crossway, 1993), 2:223. ↩