“Let us run with endurance the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Hebrews is a book that spurs us on to endurance in the Christian life. The readers were facing difficult times, living in a society that refused to accept the uniqueness of Christ and struggling to hold on to their faith in the midst of it all. As we read Hebrews in our small groups this term, we have much in common with the first readers. Yet Hebrews can also be hard to read at times. It may be precisely when we are under pressure and needing the encouragement of a book like Hebrews that we shy away from it because it can be hard. So . . . three top tips for reading Hebrews:
One: There are two themes in the book: teaching on the greatness of Christ and encouragement to endure with Him. The writer constantly switches between teaching and encouragement, (unlike many other letters in the New Testament, which have mainly teaching first and then application). Ask yourself whether the section you are reading is teaching or encouragement.
Two: the writer often uses an argument “from the lesser to the greater”. That is, he tells us about something and then shows how something else is better. So for example, the Old Testament priesthood (“the lesser”) was good but Jesus (“the greater”) is even better. It will help to ask ourselves first why the lesser thing is good in its own right. Only then will we see the greatness of the better thing. For example, a prize marrow is a moderately interesting phenomenon, but because I am not that excited by a normal sized marrow, a prize-winningly large marrow is only mildly diverting at best. If we do not see why the Old Testament priesthood is a good thing, we will find it of only academic interest that Jesus is a greater priest.
Three: remember the purpose of the book. It is not written to interest the minds of scholars in a library but to warm the hearts of disciples struggling to persevere. Let’s not just apply what we learn in Hebrews to our minds. It is also good to ask how it would help somebody struggling to endure with Christ in the face of difficult times. If we finish reading Hebrews with a larger mind but a cold heart, we have missed the point.