I have loved this passage from Hebrews for many years. After a tremendous didactic sermon, or series of sermons exhorting the Hebrew believers (and us) to persevere because Jesus is superior, better, than anything else, and with accompanying strong warnings if they fail to do so, the writer winds things up in chapter 13. I want to look at verses 13-15 specifically.
It seems quite obvious to me that the challenge given by the writer runs extremely countercultural to our society today. Our world is one of “me first,” of entitlement, of ease, comfort, fun, pleasure. This is not what the writer to the Hebrews envisioned for himself or for his readers.
As verse 13 states, we as Christ-followers must be ready to suffer reproach with Him and for His sake. We instinctively don’t like the sound of that, but “the disciple is not above his master,” and as the songwriter, Isaac Watts, of yesteryear expressed it, “Is this vile world a friend to grace to help us on to God?”
The writer ties together our present and our future in a most intriguing way. “Here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” Nothing here is forever, nothing is permanent. All is transitory, temporary, and our true home lies beyond the pale of this present world.
I am amazed and frequently disappointed with myself that I don’t live more in the light of eternity. I’m too much earthly bound, and I suspect that’s true of many of us. This passage can help by clarifying what we know to be true, and by challenging us to live that way. We’re pilgrims and strangers, whose true citizenship is in Heaven.
The writer then speaks, at least in part, of specific things we’re to do, of how we’re to live. “The sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess His name”. (The chorus “We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise” must surely come from this passage.) The answer, of course, is a life of praise and thanksgiving, continually (habitually, constantly), fully recognizing the Source of every blessing, the reason for our earthly joys, and the foundation of our Heavenly anticipation.
The writer drives home an important point. “But to do good, and to communicate (to share, to help one another) forget not…” A life lived sacrificially, by doing good, and by sharing with others is the antidote to a wasted life. The Scripture says that God is pleased with those sacrifices for His sake, and they are our true source of joy.
- God is pleased with such sacrifices.
- Those who know they don’t have a “continuing city, ” – they don’t have permanence – live this way.
- What we believe, really believe, affects how we behave. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy, as Professor Leroy Forlines frequently stated it.
An old gospel song, “Looking for a City”, written by W. Oliver Cooper and later re-arranged and re-released by Marvin P. Dalton, illustrates this. Dalton attended Free Will Baptist Bible College for a brief time in the late 1940s. He was a noted songwriter, both for “Looking for a City,” which was sung by quartets in four-part harmony featuring the high tenor part, and the Christian ballad, “Oh What a Savior.
If we look for a city to come and don’t let ourselves get too comfortable here; if we continuously offer the sacrifice of praise; and, if we do good, we’ll be happier here, and more fully prepared for the life to come.
Looking for a City
Looking for a city
Where we'll never die
There with sainted millions
Never say goodby.
There we'll meet our Savior
And our loved ones, too
Come, oh Holy Spirit
All our hopes renew.