Offer Sacrifices That Please Jehovah
“Through [Jesus Christ] let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.”—HEBREWS 13:15.
1. What did Jehovah urge sinful Israelites to do?
JEHOVAH is the Helper of those offering acceptable sacrifices to him. Therefore, his favor once rested upon Israelites who offered animal sacrifices. But what happened after they repeatedly sinned? Through the prophet Hosea, they were urged: “Do come back, O Israel, to Jehovah your God, for you have stumbled in your error. Take with yourselves words and come back to Jehovah. Say to him, all you people, ‘May you pardon error; and accept what is good, and we will offer in return the young bulls of our lips.’”—Hosea 14:1, 2.
2. What were ‘the young bulls of the lips,’ and how did the apostle Paul allude to Hosea’s prophecy?
2 So it was that God’s ancient people were encouraged to offer to Jehovah God ‘the young bulls of their lips.’ What were these? Why, sacrifices of sincere praise! Alluding to this prophecy, the apostle Paul urged Hebrew Christians to “offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.” (Hebrews 13:15) What can help Jehovah’s Witnesses to offer such sacrifices today?
“Imitate Their Faith”
3. In essence, what did the apostle Paul say at Hebrews 13:7, raising what question?
3 Applying the counsel Paul gave the Hebrews will enable us to offer acceptable sacrifices to our Great Helper, Jehovah God. For instance, the apostle wrote: “Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7) To whom did Paul refer when he said, “Remember those who are taking the lead among you,” or “are governors of you”?—New World Translation Reference Bible, footnote.
4. (a) According to the Greek text, what are those “taking the lead” doing? (b) Who are those “taking the lead” among Jehovah’s Witnesses?
4 Paul spoke of those “taking the lead,” or governing. (Heb 13 Verses 7, 17, 24) The English word “govern” is derived through Latin from the Greek ky·ber·naʹo, meaning to “steer a ship, direct, govern.” Christian elders govern by using their “abilities to direct” (Greek, ky·ber·neʹseis) in providing leadership and guidance in local congregations. (1 Corinthians 12:28) But the apostles and other elders in Jerusalem served as a body to give guidance and counsel to all the congregations. (Acts 15:1, 2, 27-29) Today, therefore, a governing body of elders provides spiritual oversight for Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide.
5. Why and how should we pray for congregation elders and members of the Governing Body?
5 Local elders and members of the Governing Body take the lead among us; hence, we should respect them and pray that God grant them the wisdom needed to govern the congregation. (Compare Ephesians 1:15-17.) How fitting that we remember any ‘who spoke the word of God to us’! Timothy was taught not only by his mother and grandmother but also later by Paul and others. (2 Timothy 1:5, 6; 3:14) So Timothy could contemplate how the conduct of those taking the lead turned out and was able to imitate their faith.
6. Whose faith should we imitate, but whom do we follow?
6 Such individuals as Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Rahab, and Moses exercised faith. (Hebrews 11:1-40) Thus, we can imitate their faith without hesitation because they died loyal to God. But we can also ‘imitate the faith’ of loyal men now taking the lead among us. Of course, we do not follow imperfect humans, for we keep our eyes on Christ. As Bible translator Edgar J. Goodspeed said: “The heroes of old are not the believer’s models, for in Christ he has a better pattern . . . The Christian runner must fix his eyes upon Jesus.” Yes, ‘Christ suffered for us, leaving a model for us to follow his steps closely.’—1 Peter 2:21; Hebrews 12:1-3.
7. How should Hebrews 13:8 affect our attitude toward suffering for Jesus Christ?
7 Focusing attention on God’s Son, Paul added: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Faithful witnesses such as Stephen and James had displayed immovable integrity, after Jesus’ steadfast pattern. (Acts 7:1-60; 12:1, 2) Since they were willing to die as followers of Christ, their faith is worthy of our imitation. In the past, at present, and even in the future, godly persons do not beg off from suffering martyrdom as Jesus’ disciples.
Avoid False Teachings
8. How would you paraphrase Paul’s words at Hebrews 13:9?
8 The unchangeableness of Jesus’ personality and teachings should make us cling to what he and his apostles taught. The Hebrews were told: “Do not be carried away with various and strange teachings; for it is fine for the heart to be given firmness by undeserved kindness, not by eatables, by which those who occupy themselves with them have not been benefited.”—Hebrews 13:9.
9. To what superior things did Paul point in the letter to the Hebrew Christians?
9 Jews pointed to such things as the spectacular giving of the Law at Mount Sinai and the lasting kingship of David. But Paul showed Hebrew Christians that although the instituting of the Law covenant was awesome, Jehovah more forcefully bore witness with signs, portents, powerful works, and distributions of holy spirit when the new covenant was inaugurated. (Acts 2:1-4; Hebrews 2:2-4) Christ’s heavenly Kingdom cannot be shaken, as was the earthly kingship of Davidic rulers in 607 B.C.E. (Hebrews 1:8, 9; 12:28) Moreover, Jehovah gathers anointed ones before something far more awe-inspiring than the miraculous display at Mount Sinai, for they approach heavenly Mount Zion.—Hebrews 12:18-27.
10. According to Hebrews 13:9, by what is the heart given firmness?
10 The Hebrews therefore needed to avoid being “carried away with various and strange teachings” of Judaizers. (Galatians 5:1-6) Not by such teachings but ‘by God’s undeserved kindness can the heart be given firmness’ so as to remain steadfast in the truth. Some apparently argued about foods and sacrifices, for Paul said that the heart was not made firm “by eatables, by which those who occupy themselves with them have not been benefited.” Spiritual benefits result from godly devotion and appreciation for the ransom, not from undue concern about eating certain foods and observing particular days. (Romans 14:5-9) Moreover, Christ’s sacrifice made Levitical sacrifices ineffective.—Hebrews 9:9-14; 10:5-10.
Sacrifices That Please God
11. (a) What is the essence of Paul’s words at Hebrews 13:10, 11? (b) What figurative altar do Christians have?
11 Levitical priests ate meat from sacrificial animals, but Paul wrote: “We have an altar from which those who do sacred service at the tent [the tabernacle] have no authority to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is taken into the holy place by the high priest for sin are burned up outside the camp” on Atonement Day. (Hebrews 13:10, 11; Leviticus 16:27; 1 Corinthians 9:13) Christians have a figurative altar denoting approach to God on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice that atones for sin and results in Jehovah’s forgiveness and salvation to eternal life.
12. At Hebrews 13:12-14, what were anointed Christians urged to do?
12 Paul does not press the analogy with Atonement Day, yet he adds: “Hence Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate” of Jerusalem. There Christ died and provided the completely effective propitiatory sacrifice. (Hebrews 13:12; John 19:17; 1 John 2:1, 2) The apostle Paul urged fellow anointed Christians: “Let us, then, go forth to him [Christ] outside the camp, bearing the reproach he bore, for we do not have here a city that continues, but we are earnestly seeking the one to come.” (Hebrews 13:13, 14; Leviticus 16:10) Though we are reproached as Jesus was, we persevere as Jehovah’s Witnesses. We ‘repudiate ungodliness and worldly desires and live with soundness of mind and righteousness and godly devotion amid this present system of things’ while looking to the new world. (Titus 2:11-14; 2 Peter 3:13; 1 John 2:15-17) And anointed ones among us earnestly seek the “city,” the heavenly Kingdom.—Hebrews 12:22.
13. Sacrifices that please God do not consist simply of what?
13 Paul next mentioned sacrifices that please God, writing: “Through him [Jesus] let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name. Moreover, do not forget the doing of good and the sharing of things with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Hebrews 13:15, 16) Christian sacrifices do not consist simply of humanitarian works. People in general do such things. For instance, this happened when people of many nations came to the aid of earthquake victims in Soviet Armenia in late 1988.
14. Offering God an acceptable sacrifice lays stress on what work?
14 The sacred service we render to Jehovah “with godly fear and awe” is founded on the self-sacrificing kind of love Jesus displayed. (Hebrews 12:28; John 13:34; 15:13) This service stresses our preaching work, for through Christ as High Priest ‘we offer to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.’ (Hosea 14:2; Romans 10:10-15; Hebrews 7:26) Of course, we “do not forget the doing of good and the sharing of things with others,” including, even, others than “those related to us in the faith.” (Galatians 6:10) Especially when fellow Christians experience calamity or are in need or distress, we render loving help materially and spiritually. Why? Because we love one another. We also want them to be able to hold fast the public declaration of their hope without wavering, “for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”—Hebrews 10:23-25; James 1:27.
15. (a) How would you paraphrase the counsel of Hebrews 13:17? (b) Why show respect for those who are taking the lead?
15 To render acceptable sacrifices, we must cooperate fully with God’s organization. Without harping on the matter of authority, Paul wrote: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.” (Hebrews 13:17) We should respect the appointed elders who take the lead in the congregation, so that they do not have to sigh with distress over our lack of cooperation. Our failing to be submissive would prove burdensome to the overseers and would result in our spiritual harm. A cooperative spirit makes it easier for elders to render assistance and contributes to unity and the progress of the Kingdom-preaching work.—Psalm 133:1-3.
16. Why is it appropriate to be submissive to those taking the lead among us?
16 How appropriate that we be submissive to those taking the lead! They teach at our meetings and help us in the ministry. As shepherds, they seek our welfare. (1 Peter 5:2, 3) They help us to maintain a good relationship with God and the congregation. (Acts 20:28-30) By submitting to wise and loving oversight, we show respect for the Supreme Overseer, Jehovah God, and his Deputy Overseer, Jesus Christ.—1 Peter 2:25; Revelation 1:1; 2:1–3:22.
17. What prayers did Paul request, and why could he rightly ask for them?
17 Since Paul and his associates were separated from the Hebrews, perhaps because of persecution, he said: “Carry on prayer for us, for we trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things. But I exhort you more especially to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.” (Hebrews 13:18, 19) If Paul had been a devious person with a seared conscience, what right would he have had to ask the Hebrews to pray that he join them? (Proverbs 3:32; 1 Timothy 4:1, 2) Of course, he was an honest minister, who in good conscience withstood Judaizers. (Acts 20:17-27) Paul was also confident that he would be able to rejoin the Hebrews sooner if they prayed for that to occur.
18. If we expect others to pray for us, what questions might we ask ourselves?
18 Paul’s request for the prayers of the Hebrews shows that it is proper for Christians to pray for one another, even by name. (Compare Ephesians 6:17-20.) But if we expect others to pray for us, should we not be like the apostle and make sure that we ‘have an honest conscience and are conducting ourselves honestly in all things’? Are you honest in all your dealings? And do you have the same confidence in prayer that Paul had?—1 John 5:14, 15.
Closing Words and Exhortation
19. (a) What was Paul’s prayerful wish for the Hebrews? (b) Why is the new covenant an everlasting covenant?
19 Having sought the prayers of the Hebrews, Paul expressed a prayerful wish, saying: “Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an everlasting covenant, our Lord Jesus, equip you with every good thing to do his will, performing in us through Jesus Christ that which is well-pleasing in his sight; to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20, 21) With a peaceful earth in view, “the God of peace” resurrected Christ to immortal life in heaven, where Jesus presented the merit of his shed blood that validated the new covenant. (Isaiah 9:6, 7; Luke 22:20) It is an everlasting covenant because those on earth receive permanent benefits from the services of the 144,000 spiritual sons of God who reign with Jesus in heaven and who are in the new covenant. (Revelation 14:1-4; 20:4-6) It is through Christ that God, to whom we ascribe glory, ‘equips us with every good thing needed to do his will and be well-pleasing in his sight.’
20. How would you paraphrase and explain Paul’s closing exhortation to the Hebrew Christians?
20 Uncertain about how the Hebrews would react to his letter, Paul said: “Now I exhort you, brothers, to bear with this word of encouragement [to listen to God’s Son, not Judaizers], for I have, indeed, composed a letter to you in few words [considering its weighty content]. Take note that our brother Timothy has been released [from prison], with whom, if he comes quite soon, I shall see you.” Probably writing from Rome, the apostle hoped that he along with Timothy would visit the Hebrews in Jerusalem. Then Paul said: “Give my greetings to all those who are taking the lead [as hardworking elders] among you and to all the holy ones [those having the heavenly hope]. Those in Italy send you their greetings. The undeserved kindness [of God] be with all of you.”—Hebrews 13:22-25.
A Letter of Lasting Value
21. The letter to the Hebrews helps us to understand what major points?
21 Perhaps more than any other book of the Holy Scriptures, the letter to the Hebrews helps us to understand the significance of the sacrifices offered under the Law. The epistle clearly shows that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the only one that provides the needed ransom for sinful humankind. And a notable message found in the letter is that we should listen to God’s Son.
22. What are some reasons for us to be grateful for the letter to the Hebrews?
22 Furthermore, as we have seen in the two previous articles, we have other reasons to be grateful for the divinely inspired letter to the Hebrews. It helps us not to tire out in our ministry, and it fills us with courage, for we know that Jehovah is our Helper. Moreover, it encourages us to use our lips and all our faculties unselfishly in rendering sacred service day and night and offering heartfelt sacrifices that please our praiseworthy and loving God, Jehovah.
How Would You Respond?
□ How did the letter to the Hebrews help them to avoid false teachings?
□ Sacrifices that please God focus on what important work?
□ Who are “those taking the lead,” and why be submissive to them?
□ How does the letter to the Hebrews highlight prayer?
□ Why can we say that the letter to Hebrew Christians is of lasting value?
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Sacrifices pleasing to God include making shepherding calls and building up fellow Christians with loving counsel