Living by the Royal Law

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This final chapter of Hebrews is in many ways a fuller exposition of what James 2:8 calls “the royal law.” The idea of both James 2 and Hebrews 13 is that since God has made His people “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) they are to live their lives in a manner that befits the highest royalty. I have a few times seen earthly royalty (some of the British royal family — from a considerable distance); yet I was close enough to observe their dignified bearing and very fine manners. Who would not respect elegance and dignity in these days of rude manners?

Belonging to human royalty certainly entails a distinguished bearing in society. And belonging — by the grace of God in Jesus Christ — to God’s own royal family by divine adoption equally well calls for a particular inward attitude and outward bearing towards others that befits who we really are. This attitude and bearing can all be summarized by what James calls “the royal law according to the scripture.” He goes on to define it in Christ’s requirement of His servants “to love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Hebrews 13 concludes its call to steadfastness in the Christian faith against all opposition by reminding all disciples that every relationship in our earthly lives is to live and function in God’s love. To be a loving person in this harsh, selfish world goes against the grain of our fallen human nature. Unregenerate humanity predisposes us to put self first and others last. We are born into a self-centered condition that makes us protective of self and careless of others.

But one of the highest privileges (and highest costs) of being reborn into the heavenly family is to live on a much higher level in our treatment of others, so that we reflect the sheer goodness of our heavenly Father (see Matt. 5:43–48). Living an unselfish life of love to all is a tremendous power at our disposal, for it can be used to convince mankind that we are the disciples of Christ (John 13:35) and that the Father really has sent the Son (Mark 9:37). Love is one debt that none of us can fully discharge during this life (Rom. 13:8). Love is of supreme importance in showing the world who God is, for it expresses the very heart of His being: “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

Hebrews 13 is very practical in laying down the railroad tracks along which the train of our lives must travel if they are to demonstrate God’s royal love to a self-enclosed generation. Hebrews 13:2 speaks of hospitality to travelers and needy persons. Opening our homes to such speaks of the royal dignity of the glorious, unseen God. People who are kindly taken (even for a little while) into loving Christian homes may well begin to see “Him who is invisible.” Yes, it costs the Christian family something in terms of lack of privacy and expense, but it is part of their royal obligation. A truly royal heart is never stingy!

This generous God is well able to make it up to them! Hebrews 13:2 reminds us of Abraham, who once — in kindness to strangers — actually entertained angels “unawares.” And Jesus says that we in some real sense take Him in, when we do it “unto one of the least of these” (See Gen. 18 and Matt. 25:40). These passages of Scripture must be taken literally, and that means acting them out literally (rather than cleverly explaining them away) if a selfish world is to find our Gospel credible. Words are not enough; action is called for, if we are truly to demonstrate the royal character (see James 2:15–18).

Hebrews 13:3 takes our train past the prisons and refugee camps of a suffering world. The heart of God reflected in His servants must beat with compassion for our fellow humans who are locked-up in bad places. This speaks of tenderness in our deepest motivations as we contemplate those in dire need. J.B. Phillips translates this verse as, “Think of all who suffer as if you shared their pain.” At the very least, we can be praying for Christians (and for others) suffering in China and Sudan, and take whatever action we can to help them physically and politically. The royal heart “rejoices with those who rejoice, and weeps with those who weep.” It is impossible to be close to the now glorified “Man of Sorrows” and be unmoved at the desperate plight of so many across the world.

The honorable and uplifting state of marriage will be upheld by sharers of the royal Heart (Heb. 13:4). The current denigration of marriage in western society by legalizing abortion, pornography, and homosexuality is the very opposite of the royal character of the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is a malign expression of the heart of Satan, who wishes to destroy all that is beautiful, and all that shows the intra-trinitarian love of God. Every good Christian marriage plays its own little part in exhibiting the divine holiness and goodness without which human society is sucked down into rot and devastation.

Submission to the legitimate authority of our church leaders is another aspect of the royal character that must be exhibited among the people of God. Insofar as — by the continually appropriated grace of God (v. 9) — we run our train down this royal track, the God of peace, who through the blood of His Son paid for our sins and raised Him to give us eternal life, will always be with us; so that for us to live, will be to show who He is (vv. 20–25).

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