In Hebrews 13 the author gives his closing remarks, a series of semi-connected exhortations, that cover the lives of believers in the world at large and in the church. I believe He is calling, in each case, for a specific set of sacrifices that give weight to and evidence of or professions of faith.
And he starts at a rather unexpected place given the context of most of the book (the superiority of Jesus, His Sacrifice, His Priesthood, etc. to the Law, Hebrew Temple sacrifice, and the Aaronic Priesthood.
He does not start by reminding them of those things, but to love one another as brothers and sisters, to care for those in jail, and to be hospitable. Why would he start there? Perhaps because our care for each other, our sacrifice for others, particularly care for other Christians (but not limited to other Christians), gives some indication of our love for Christ who sacrificed for us.
I would note that there is a risk in each of these, in opening your home, in caring for prisoners and in loving each other as brother and sister. Who knows what damage a stranger may do in one’s home, but that prospect pales in comparison to the damage that can done by fellow church members. And yet….
Then the author hits two biggies, sexual purity especially in the context of marriage, and the love of money. The Greco-Roman world was like ours. It was saturated with lust, greed and violence. In many cases, especially for the upper classes, marriages were a matter of family alliances, business deals intended to produce heirs, while love was another matter entirely. Men were almost expected to take mistresses and love and marriage and fidelity were not the norm.
People were also just like today. Personal gain was the goal, being poor was not just a really bad it was considered a moral failing in many circles. Chasing wealth and a focus on possessions was no different then than now.
In contrast the writer of Hebrews asks for sacrifice instead of pursuit of self. He asks us to sacrifice, for the sake of Christ, our desires to faithfulness in marriage. He asks us to sacrifice control of where our next meal comes from to the provision God has for us. To trust God to make us complete, safe, fulfilled and fed.
He next asks for sacrifice when we do church, but first he chases a rabbit of sorts related to what has gone before. He asks us to consider the leaders in the church (is he speaking of the apostles, local leaders, both), reflect on their teaching and lives for the purpose of applying what they have taught by both word and example.
Then he hares off. In 9-14 we have a recapitulation, in slightly different terms, of the whole book. He warns against strange teachings, reminds us of the superiority of grace over ceremony, and notes again the superiority of the altar of Christ’s sacrifice to the altar that had gone before. Christians belong outside the camp, outside of ceremonial Judaism and also outside the city of the “mainstream”. If we must bear disgrace for that then it is less than the disgrace Jesus bore for our sake.
Because of or through or on account of this sacrifice, because we are outside the city/camp, we are to praise God offering these praises as our sacrifice. These praises, this thanksgiving, is more than just verbal, although it is that as well. It is the life of one who has professed Jesus with his lips.
And last he asks us to sacrifice in relation to those who lead in church. I’m pretty sure there is not authority given to leaders in church today, I think that was reserved for apostolic times. But the notion that we are all supposed to submit to each other in Christ still applies. And to me the writer says we need to sacrifice the joys and pleasures of making church leaders hard job harder because there is no benefit to any of us in that. We submit to them in love for Christ (and them) not because they have some right to command us, but as we submit to each other, as Jesus submitted Himself to death for our sake out of love for the Father.
And for us, what have we sacrificed in light of the superior sacrifice of Christ? Are we hospitable? Faithful? Seeking things of the spirit rather than money? Living peaceably with other believers?