A second New Testament benediction that has long resonated with me is this one:
20 Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, 21 equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen (He 13.20-21).
As you can see, this is the way the writer of Hebrews closes his letter. I don’t name him because nobody knows who he is; Hebrews is anonymous.
That fact has bothered some people over the years; a few in the early church resisted recognizing the book’s scriptural status because since it was anonymous, its apostolic authority could not be verified. But that objection wasn’t widespread and didn’t last long, mostly because much of the Old Testament (Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Esther, Job, Jonah, maybe Malachi, and portions of Psalms and Proverbs) is anonymous, and that doesn’t seem to be an obstacle to recognition. I sometimes tell my students, “Read any nonbiblical document at earlychristianwritings.com, and then read Hebrews. The difference is stark.”
And this passage is just one example of that.
The writer prays that God may “equip [us] in every good thing to do his will.” In other words, whenever we are called upon to do anything good—which is, not coincidentally, God’s will—he will enable us to do it.
That’s a good prayer, and one that God will surely answer, because it’s a common promise in Scripture. Paul writes that we who “formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh” (Ep 2.3) are now “raised up” by God (Ep 2.6), “created … for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ep 2.10). Earlier Paul had written that even in difficulties and trials, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1Co 10.13).
Years ago my Calvinist systematic theology professor said, “You don’t have to sin. In any given moment, a believer can choose to do the right thing.” I was afraid he was going to lose his Calvinism Card over that one. 🙂
He got that idea from these passages, and many others, that tell us that through God’s grace, we can win in the daily battle with sin, and we can accomplish the good that God calls us to do.
How does God do that? The writer tells us: by “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight.” God does it by changing us, a little bit at a time, from the inside out. He uses many means to accomplish that change—most obviously, the indwelling Spirit, who is the agent of our sanctification (2Th 2.13; Ro 8.13; Ga 5.22-23). I’ve written before about some of the other means.
Can God accomplish what he’s promised? The writer gives us evidence. This is the God “who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep.” This is the God who raises the physically dead; it’s reasonable to think that he can raise the spiritually dead as well.
He raised him, the writer tells us, “though the blood of the eternal covenant.” This is a God who makes promises and then keeps them. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed since he made the promise; he will remember and respect and keep his promises forever. That’s the kind of person he is.
So he can keep his promises, and he will keep his promises, “until angels sing a funeral dirge over his grave”—which will never happen, because he will never die.
And now, may that God do that work for you.