Religious Directions

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Ritual

The writer warns in this passage against diverse and strange teachings which are linked with food restrictions and external religious demands. Apparently some were teaching that keeping the Old Testament ceremonial laws and rituals (such as eating certain foods) was important to salvation (v. 9). Some were even considering going back to Jewish laws that governed the foods they were eating. But these laws were useless for conquering a person’s evil thoughts and desires (Col. 2:23). The writer says, “Look at these people who have been so concerned about you getting involved in restrictions of diet and other outward forms and are lean, hungry and long faced themselves.”

This kind of ritualism is seen in our day in the practices of such things as giving up meat for Lent, burning candles for certain observances, counting beads, or any form or ceremony upon which some religious value is placed. Food does not strengthen the heart, but grace does. Dietary laws impress people as being spiritual but they do not build people up in Christ. If you try to feed your heart on empty religious ordinances, then you cannot feed yourself upon the strength of God’s grace.

The Jewish Christians were being ridiculed and persecuted by Jews who didn’t believe in Jesus the Messiah (v. 13). It is pointed out that it may be necessary to leave the “camp” and suffer with Christ.  The time had come for the Jewish Christians to declare their loyalty to Christ. They needed to move outside the safe confinement of their past, their traditions, and their ceremonies to live for Christ. Man fulfills his proper function only by receiving what God has done in Christ, without need for observances or candles, or form or ceremony, but by a quiet act of faith. That is the simplicity of belief in Jesus Christ. It is so uncomplicated, so simple, and so available to all.

Application

I should not be attached to this world, because all that I am and all that I have here is temporary. Only my relationship to the Lord and my service to Him will last.

Hebrews 13:9-14 (English Standard Version)

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.

View this passage in NIV (Bible Gateway) »