1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:1-6)
In his classic book, The City of God, St. Augustine shows us how to think about the world. There are two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. These cities are founded on two loves. Augustine explains:
Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”
Hebrews 13 is about two cities, with the focus on the City of God. How does the City of God live? The residents, sustained by Jesus, persevere in love. They remember those in prison, hold marriage in honor, stay free from love of money, and remember that the Lord is their helper. By nature, the City of Man is opposed to the City of God because love of God has replaced love of Self, and Self never dies easily. The City of God operates under different rules, powered by the Holy Spirit. Whereas the City of Man looks for the easy way out, maximizing comfort and affluence, the City of God looks for the righteous way out, maximizing love and care.
Because the City of Man hates the City of God, the original audience would have known people imprisoned for their faith. The author is asking his readers to identify with them in their suffering because Christians comprise one body. Undoubtedly, that would have included watching over their spouses and children. The unity of the believers means not only that they are part of one church but that they stick their neck out for one another, even if that leads to suffering. After all, they’re following a man who died for the ones he loved. That’s not an easy call, but what in the Christian life is easy when living in the City of Man?
When it comes to holy living, the City of God never lets up. The joy of the Lord is their strength. So, naturally, the author moves from the hard to the harder. He calls his readers to two things in verses 4-5: marriage must be held in honor, and we must be content. The author has repeatedly warned us not to drift from God. One way we could fall away from the faith is to give ourselves over to sexual sin. Another way is to give ourselves over to greed.
Sexual immorality and greed are often closely linked. Discontentment leads to sexual sin, and sexual sin leads to discontentment. It is as true today as it was in the ancient world. Our disordered desires cause our downfall. But in the City of God, citizens are content with what God has provided because they’ve already received the deepest desire of their heart. They have God, the one who fulfills all longings.
We drift from God because we believe the Devil’s lie that God is holding us back. We are like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, considering the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge Good and Evil when the Tree of Life has been provided. Therefore, we fight sexual temptation and discontentment by considering Jesus Christ. Christ keeps us tied to the harbor of the gospel. He holds us in the throne room of heaven. We may feel the wind and the rage of the storms, but we cannot be lost at sea because the anchor holds.
To endure, we need reminders of the sovereign power of God. Here in Hebrews 13, the author quotes Psalm 118 as comfort and motivation for holy living. “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Our motivation to keep the marriage bed undefiled and remain content is the goodness of God. He will not leave us nor forsake us. He is our helper. The logic of the gospel tells us that all our greatest fears have been conquered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If the Lord grants us victory over our foes of sin and death, how much more will he grant victory over sexual temptation and greed? Is God holding out on us, or are we holding out on him? In which City do we have our citizenship?