By Meg Bucher, Crosswalk.com
“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Hebrews 13:16, ESV
How do we continue to love and serve others when our normal has been derailed? Tragedy and suffering beg us to be creative in the way we rally to help one another. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (ESV) God is our faithful Provider, Sustainer, and Healer. It is from our faith and trust in His providence we reach out to love and help those in need. No matter the crisis, He provides a way for Gospel love to keep circulating. We help with what we have and where we’re at, as the people God purposed us to be.
Author, Audience, and Purpose of the Book of Hebrews
The author of the Book of Hebrews is unknown, but the way in which the author wrote the book reveals he was familiar to those whom the letter was originally written. “No one today knows who wrote Hebrews,” The Moody Bible Commentary states, “but the original recipients did.” The purpose of Hebrews was to confront apostasy, the rejection of Jesus as Messiah. The letter’s audience was returning to the Jewish faith of the Old Testament, and the writer of Hebrews was begging them to embrace Christ as the Author and Perfecter of our faith, whom the Jewish religion and Old Testament Scriptures point to.
The good the author is instructing readers that Hebrews 13:16 is impossible to achieve without Christ. “We must, according to our power, give to the necessities of the souls and bodies of men: God will accept these offerings with pleasure, and will accept and bless the offerers through Christ,” explained Matthew Henry in his commentary. “The believer is to love not just those inside, but also those outside the community of faith- to show concern not only for those whom he knows, but also for those whom he does not know,” The Moody Bible Commentary explains. The Book of Hebrews can be practically applied to our lives today, especially in the light of crisis and suffering. When we tend to seek easier or seemingly better solutions, the divinely inspired truth of God’s Word in Hebrews reminds us Jesus is still better (The word “better” is repeated throughout the Book of Hebrews).
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” explains John Piper, “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace.”
The Meaning and Application of Hebrews 13:16
“Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship- a different kind of ‘sacrifice’ -that take place in kitchen and workplace on the streets.” Hebrews 13:16, The Message paraphrase.
God’s people have been faced with trying times since the beginning. Our Father in heaven remains the same, regardless of shifting circumstances in our lives and world. When we are hard-pressed, we look to Him for stability and direction. Through Christ, love flows through us, especially in times when we find ourselves struggling. “If I can have forgiveness, and if I can have the promise of omnipotent help from Jesus who is the same yesterday today and forever,” explains John Piper, “my heart will be strong, and I will be able to carry on another day. Such is the glory of grace in the Christian life.” Hebrews 13:16 reminds us of the import command to love others, regardless of our current circumstance. Here are four things we should note about Hebrews 13:16.
1. “Do Not Neglect”
“Do not neglect” implies effort is needed. The Greek word for “neglect” means to forget or no longer care for. How do we rally our effort to help another when we are weary, tired, and worn? Once the initial adrenaline of shocking situational change subsides, we can struggle to find stability on the roller coaster of emotions we're feeling. Have you ever feared a roller coaster so much that the real fear is that something will malfunction and we’ll have to ride it over and over again? In the midst of heartache, loss, and unprecedented hardship, this becomes akin to our reality. Our normal seems broken, and instead, we feel stuck on a malfunctioning roller coaster. It would be much easier to numb out, it would only leave us more bruised and battered than necessary. God’s word instructs us to “Move toward need, not comfort.” (John Piper, “Let Us Go with Jesus Bearing Reproach.”)
When we keep a tight grip on Truth, we find hope in the midst of struggle and uncertainty. The AMP version of Hebrews 13:16 reads, “Do not forget or neglect to do kindness and good, to be generous and distribute and contribute to the needy [of the church as embodiment and proof of fellowship], for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
In the previous chapter of Hebrews, the writer encourages us to “run with endurance.” When we are tired, it takes extraneous effort to continue, but it’s also the place where the most growth happens. “Pharisees’ belief in piety as a spiritual offering may have helped Pharisaism survive the destruction of the temple in AD 70,” the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains, “Passages such as this one (Hebrews 13:16) illustrate that, theologically, Christians were even better prepared for that crisis.”
2. “Do Good”
In the face of devastating times, which break our hearts in so many serious ways beyond inconvenience, “do not neglect to do good.” To do good we have to stay close to God, who is good. All good flows from Him because that’s who He is. He makes good of all things. The original Greek for “doing good” means to adore or produce good, in the lane of kindness and charity. Under the pressure of unprecedented hardship, good flows from us through Jesus Christ.
Jesus knew, riding into the Holy City on Palm Sunday, what was coming. He knew He faced betrayal, insult, injury, pain, and agonizing death. Yet, He chose to do good. He kept going until it was finished. What was finished? God’s plan was always forgiveness. Jesus, by His death and resurrection, made a way for us to embrace the gift of God’s forgiveness, His grace, His mercy, His love, and His goodness. What looked like defeat was the final victory over death … for all time.
We can do all things through Him who gives us the strength to do them (verse- Phil 4:13). That includes good things. We take up our cross everyday and follow Him. “Do not neglect to do good,” does not infer our faith is dependent on works. Rather, good works are an outflow of our faith in Christ. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise- the fruit of lips that confess his name.”
3. “Share What You Have”
God has faithfully equipped us to face our current circumstances, through Christ. He has purposefully placed us for such a time as this. In our current generation, and the communities in which we are placed, we stand poised to love others on account of the gospel. We can choose to step up and lean into the talents God has given us and the tasks we find at our feet. “Self-centeredness has no place in the church,” wrote John MacArthur. We must ask God, prayerfully, to see our lives through the lens of faith and His perspective. He will allow us to experience the purposes He has prepared “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) Right where we are, we can meet needs and serve others. “Very simply, the life of a Christian is not only to be a worshiping, praising life, but a shared life;” John Piper teaches, “a life of doing good for others and sharing your possessions and your heart with others.”
“Share,” in the original Greek text, implies sharing what we have, generously as a gift, in fellowship and within the community. We were not meant to do life alone but with and among the people God has placed in our lives, both remote and in close proximity. God is incredibly good. He calls us to share what we have and who we are. “True biblical piety always involves service- first to other believers in need and then to the needy in the unbelieving world.” (“Share What You Have,” Ligonier Ministries)
Hebrews 13:16 begs us to consider how to help others in our current state. 1 Samuel 16:7 reminds, “the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but LORD looks on the heart” (ESV). Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 ESV). Especially in difficult times, comparison can threaten to kill our good intentions to give. “God never intended for everyone to give the same amount or in the same way,” explains Larry Burkett, “but each should give bountifully and cheerfully.”
4. “Such Sacrifices Are Pleasing to God”
Everything God does is meant to draw us closer to Him. He doesn’t cause bad things to happen, and He is powerful enough to stop this catastrophic circumstance if He wills. Why doesn’t He always will to then? We don’t know all of the answers. His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not His ways. But we know unwaveringly He is good. We know He is the God of miracles, and we keep praying for those miracles. All of us know someone who is currently suffering or putting their life on the line to serve others who are. We may not all be called to the frontlines during hard times, but we can all rally behind them with prayers and encouragement.
“Because I was made to delight in Jesus, the one who demonstrated perfectly what it means to give up life for another,” writes Shanna Mallon, “I don’t have to trade the temporal satisfaction of being noticed for the eternal glory that is to come.” Hebrews 13:16 calls us to do what we can do and do it well. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for me” (ESV). We are called, above all, to love one another. Whether in good times or moments of suffering and tragedy, in Christ, we all have the power to love. “God calls us for much more than we can imagine,” writes Akwasi Appiah, “Our lives should be spent responding to his love and mercy.”
How Can We Apply Hebrews 13:16 in Pandemic Times?
The current state of the COVID-19 pandemic has left many of us reeling. Most of us have never witnessed suffering on such a massive scale as this, nor been quarantined to our homes. Our lives changed drastically and swiftly, the new normal upending many of the ways we would normally reach out to our neighbors in need. During these trying times, there is still much we can do to obey God’s command in Hebrews 13:16. For those of us on the front lines of sickness, we are serving by working hard with our skill sets, gifts, educations, talent and care. Healthcare workers, first responders, and other essential workers continue to put their literal lives on the line as they go to battle with the virus each day. What can the rest of us do to come alongside them?
1. Pray. Prayer is the most powerful weapon in the wars we wage in the fallen world we live in. Prayer isn’t passive. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us. Storm the gates of heaven with prayers for a miraculous healing, cure, and end of COVID-19’s spread. Our God is the God of miracles. Let’s not neglect asking Him for them! Many community Bible studies and most churches have moved online to stay connected. Plug in and join corporate prayer, as well.
2. Stay home and wash your hands. First and foremost, we can lead by example, adhering to quarantine and social distancing guidelines in place to decrease the spread of the virus.
3. Keep communicating. Social distance doesn’t mean we have to be silent. Letters, notes of encouragement, phone calls and video chats are keeping communities, families, and friends in contact. Hearing voices and seeing faces is important. Don’t go silent.
4. Brighten up your corner of the world. Many are putting rainbows in windows to signify hope, bears in windows for neighborhood kids to hunt for, and sidewalk-chalking driveways and walks with messages of encouragement and cheer.
5. Share what you have. Food banks need donations. The need to feed the hungry is great, and now many more are facing this need for the first time. It’s imperative we give what we have, and there is so much we can do without leaving our homes. A single dollar goes a long way. Blood drives need people to donate. Healthcare workers and first responders need to know we are praying for them through notes, video messages, cards and signs to spur them on. Don't forget about those who work in grocery stores, janitorial staff, teachers, and other essential workers outside the medical field. Fabric donations are needed for those making masks, and patterns are available to make them at home.
A Prayer to Apply Hebrews 13:16 to Our Lives
In dire straights and serious crisis, we know You remain the same. Constant and compassionate, merciful and just, we rely on Your steadiness to reveal and remind us of Your Truth. May we not grow weary of doing good, though we become tired and pummeled from tragedy and long-suffering. Help us to see our lives through the lens of our faith and Your perspective. You created each of us for a specific purpose. We live to bring glory and honor to Your name. When it’s inconvenient, hard, and requires great sacrifice, turn our eyes to the people You’ve placed in our lives, and lead us in meeting their needs with what we have to give.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Paul wrote, in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (ESV). In Romans 3:9 and 3:23, Paul reminds us no one is righteous, and we all fall short of the glory of God. How do we crawl out of the pits of hard emotions during this crisis? Through Christ. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8)! When the world’s previous notion of normal is in upheaval, it’s especially paramount we know and live God’s Truth.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Sitthiphong
Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ as an author, freelance writer, and blogger at Sunny&80. Her first book, “Friends with Everyone,” is available on amazon.com. She earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters. Besides writing, she leads a Bible Study for Women and serves as a Youth Ministry leader in her community. She lives in Northern Ohio with her husband, Jim, and two daughters.