Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. – Hebrews 13:7-16 ESV
Consistency. Constancy. Steadfastness. A determination to stay the course, unwavering and undeterred from the goal. That is the key characteristic the author of Hebrews encourages us to look for in the lives of those we follow, whose lifestyle and faith we emulate. Living the Christian life is difficult, and God never intended for us to do it alone. He has placed others within the context of our lives to act as role models and companions along our faith journey. Within the body of Christ there will always be leaders, men and women who act as guides along the way, providing us with invaluable insights into the Word of God and the way of faith. But the author warns us to “consider the outcome of their way of life.” Was theirs a life well-lived? Did they finish strong? Was their character consistent with their teaching? Did they practice what they preached? Or were they all over the map spiritually? Was their faith consistent and their walk steady? Or were they “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14 ESV)? Our spiritual leaders should model consistency and steadfastness for us. They are to be like Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and forever. That does not mean our spiritual mentors, pastors, and teachers should have perfectly consistent lives, but it is an encouragement to seek out those who have lived long enough to have proven their confession has had time to show up in their character. Their creed has been translated into conduct. What they say they believe has had time to manifest itself in what they have become.
The author warns his readers, “So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them” (Hebrews 13:9 NLT). Man’s obsession with novelty is nothing new. We love new ideas, new fashions, new trends and even new teaching. We are naturally drawn to anything that sounds innovative or provides never-before-seen insights into living the Christian life. The early church, just like the church today, was constantly being bombarded with new and improved teaching about everything from who Jesus really was to how to grow in godliness. That’s why the author mentioned devotion to foods. There was evidently a teaching influencing the local church that encouraged abstinence from certain foods as a requirement for true spirituality. Paul had had to deal with this very same thing. “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Colossians 2:16 ESV). He warned Timothy:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. – 1 Timothy 4:1-3 ESV
There will always be those who claim to have new insights into God’s Word. They will boast of having received new revelations from God and teach a new and improved version of the truth of God. But we must always judge their claims by their character. We must learn to compare their teaching with that of Christ and His apostles. Anyone who brings in “new” teaching that in any way adds to or distracts from the grace of God or the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross is to be avoided at all costs. That is the point the author is trying to make with his somewhat cryptic statement: “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:10-11 ESV). His Hebrew readers would have easily understood his point. Under the old covenant, the priests were allowed to eat part of the sacrifice that was made. It was how God provided for them. But any animal whose blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat within the Holy of Holies was not allowed to be eaten, but was burned outside the camp. His point was that Jesus was sacrificed “outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood” (Hebrews 13:12 ESV). Only those who live according to the new covenant in His blood are allowed to benefit from His body and blood. Those who want to live under the old covenant of law and legalism are not partakers in the new covenant.
Our faith is to be in Christ and Him alone. Anyone who adds to that formula is to be avoided, not matter how novel, new and exciting their teaching may sound. We are to remain consistently faithful to the teachings of Jesus and those of His apostles. We are to live with our eyes on the future, “for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14 ESV). The gospel is more than 2,000 years old. It needs no improvement. It requires no new insights or innovative teachings to explain it. Through our relationship with Christ, “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” and let us “not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:15-16 ESV). New isn’t always improved.