- Locate the passage.
The passage is the final sub-section in the overall conclusion which is 13:1-25.
- Determine the structure of the text
The text has three sub-divisions followed by a brief conclusion/sign off: 1) Personal request for prayer (vv. 18-19), 2) Benediction (vv. 20-21), 3) Personal exhortations (vv. 22-24), and conclusion (25).
- Exegete the passage
The topic shifts again in vv. 18-19 with the author’s request for prayer. The present imperative signals durative action: “keep on praying.”
The readers are urged “all the more” in v. 19 to pray for the author’s speedy restoration to them. This verse would seem to indicate that the author not only knew the readers but had previously been in their company. The notion of being “restored” may signal the author has been detained and desires to be “released” so he can come to the location of the readers. Whether this statement indicates the author had been confined in prison or not cannot be ascertained with any certainty. On the basis of v. 23, which likely indicates Timothy had been imprisoned and had been recently released, it would seem the author himself was not in prison at the time of writing.
The benediction of vv. 20–21 is essentially a prayer. The two verses form one sentence in the Greek text, with “God” in v. 20 the subject of the main verb “equip” in v. 21. The main point of the benediction is God’s equipping the readers with everything they need in order to do God’s will. It is God’s “working in us” (the equipping) what is pleasing to him that enables us to do his will.
The overall structure of the benediction is symmetrical. Between an opening invocation and a closing doxology, there are two strophes of four lines each.
Verse 21 provides the predicate to the benediction. It is God who will equip the readers with everything they need to do his will. The participle “doing” is translated as a second exhortation in the NIV, but it is better to construe it either temporally, “as he brings to pass,” or as expressing purpose in the sense of “for the purpose of doing. . . .”
The author’s rhetorical strategy is seen in his repetition of the concept of “pleasing” which he used in 12:28 and 13:16. On the basis of the new covenant inaugurated by Christ, the goal of the Christian life is to obey God and do that which is pleasing to him.
Verses 22-24 contain brief personal exhortations and a final greeting. This is followed in v. 25 with a concluding prayer formalized as a benediction.
See Neva Miller, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Analytical and Exegetical Handbook, 446-55; J. Harold Greenlee, Hebrews: An Exegetical Summary, 603-16; and David L. Allen, Hebrews, 624-32, for more detailed exegetical and semantic analysis of the text.
- Let the structure of the text drive the structure of the sermon.
I. Exhortation to pray for the author. (18-19)
II. Closing Benediction. (20-21)
III. Personal exhortations and final greeting. (22-24)
IV. Final benediction/formal closure in the form of a prayer. (25)
Verse 25 can be wrapped into vv. 22-24 for preaching purposes. Thus, the text has three major sub-sections.
Note the connection between vv. 18-19 and 20-21. The former is a request for prayer and the latter is essentially a prayer for the readers couched in the form of a benediction. Thus, these two sub-sections can be treated together in preaching, while vv. 22-24 shift to a different set of exhortations from the author to the readers. Finally, v. 25 is also a short prayer couched in the form of a benediction. Thus, the main theme in this section is prayer.