************ Sermon on Hebrews 13:17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 10, 2017
"Obey Your Leaders"
Remember where we are at in Hebrews? For twelve chapters we have been looking at Jesus. We have been told, again and again, that Jesus is better. He is better than anything in the Old Testament. He is better than anything in the Jewish faith. He is better than anything in the old covenant. And, Jesus is once for all. His sacrifice, His priesthood, His suffering and death is once for all: once for all men, once for all sin, once for all time. No other sacrifice is needed. No other priest is needed.
Chapter 13 starts a whole new section of Hebrews. Hebrews now answers the question, "So what?" "You have heard about Jesus. So what? What are you to do? How are you to respond?"
Remember, too, what Hebrews wants us to keep in mind. Namely, we are being watched. We are living in glass houses and all that we do is being watched. We are being watched by God, of course, Who sees all things and knows all things. God is watching how we respond to Jesus. God is watching how we live for Jesus. And, we are being watched by the world. The world is watching us. And, the world is so quick to point the finger if we don't live for Jesus. The world, as a tool of Satan, wants to accuse us of being hypocrites.
So, what have we been told so far as to how we are to live before God and the world? We are told:
-to show hospitality
-to honor marriage
-to keep our lives free from the love of money
-to be content with what we have
-to imitate the heroes of faith of Hebrews 11
-to keep to sound doctrine
-to go to Jesus outside the camp
-to offer to God a sacrifice of praise
Today, we are told to be obey and submit: "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." As we live before God and the world, we are to be obey and submit. As we are being watched, we are to be obey and submit. As people who live in glass houses, we are to be obey and submit.
God is talking to us as Christians. God is talking to us as Christians within the church. God is talking to us about obedience and submission to Spirit-controlled men. So, our text is not talking about obedience and submission to worldly rulers like President Trump or President Obama or Governor Brown or Senator Feinstein. We know from Romans 13 we need to obey and submit to worldly authorities, but that is not the focus of Hebrews 13 when it says, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority."
I God's Rule Through Men
A Here is something amazing: much of God's rule in this world is through men. God has often done this in the history of His people. For instance, throughout the Old Testament God ruled over His people through kings, prophets, and judges. Similarly, today God rules through Spirit-controlled men. We see this taught so clearly in Ephesians 4. There we are told that the ascended Christ gave gifts to the church. What gifts? The gifts that He gave to the church are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. They are gifts of Christ for the instruction and ruling of the church. That is why, according to the books of Acts and Titus, elders were appointed in every church.
What this means is that it is God Who ordains the leaders of the church. In the Hebrew church, this means the Spirit of God appointed certain men to rule over the congregation. In his letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul identifies these men as elders and teaching pastors. They do not rule for themselves; instead, they rule in the place of Christ. That's why we call them under-shepherds. They are under Jesus and God rules His church through them.
Now, think of the practical implication of this: when our text says obey them and submit to them, the obedience and submission is not to men but to God. So I repeat what I said before: God rules the church through Spirit-controlled men.
B Let me say something about Reformed Church government. Our form of church government is Presbyterian. The word "Presbyterian" comes from the word "Presbyter" -- which is the Greek word for elder. "Presbyterian" means rule by elder. Or, to be more correct, rule of Christ through the elders.
The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox and Anglican churches all have an episcopalian form of church government. "Episcopalian" means rule by bishops -- because "episcopos" is the Greek word for bishop. We cannot agree with this form of church government because Paul did not appoint bishops in each town; rather, he appointed elders.
Another form of church government we see today is called "congregational." In this form of government the congregation rules the leaders. What a tragedy it is when members of the church try to lord it over the elders and pastors because they have money or because they are founding members or because they used to be in church office. The New Testament does not recognize this form of church government either.
A final form of church government is the state-run and state-controlled church -- like we have in China. The government runs the church and punishes sinners. God appointed elders and pastors, not Presidents and Congressmen and Supreme Court Justices, to run His church.
Christ rules his church through elders. That's the God-ordained way the Spirit of Christ leads the church.
C The word translated as "leaders" in our text is translated as "one who rules" in Luke 22:26 and "ruler" in Acts 7:10. This means it is the right of these men to rule the church: that is, to set the direction of the church, to preside, to teach the Word, to admonish, to rebuke, to exhort. In his letter to the Thessalonians Paul identifies elders and pastors as those "who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you."
So elders and pastors rule. But they are to rule in a certain kind of way. Peter addresses this in his first letter where he identifies three temptations faced by those in church office.
The first temptation is the abuse of power, to rule as tyrants. That is not what the Lord of the church wants. Listen to how Peter puts this:
(1 Pet 5:2-3) Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers ...(3) not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.There you have it. Elders and pastors must never be dictators. They are to rule not by decree but by example. Some people want to be elders because they covet authority, position, honor, power. They want to be in charge. But that is not what God has in mind.
A second temptation facing the elders is pride. Pride in office. Pride in being an elder or pastor. Listen to what Peter says about this:
(1 Pet 5:5) All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
A third temptation facing those who are elders is a lack of vigilance. It is so easy to become complacent. It is so easy to develop blind eyes or deaf ears to what is really going on. Listen to what Peter says about compromise:
(1 Pet 5:8-9) Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (9) Resist him, standing firm in the faith ...
II Obey and Submit
A "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." That's what those who have been saved by Jesus are to do. That's what we are to do before our watching God and our watching world.
"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." Does Hebrews say, "Obey when you agree with them"? Does Hebrews say, "Obey when it seems good to you"? Does Hebrews say, "Obey when you like what they decide?" Notice, Hebrews mentions no qualifications; it just says obey and submit. The Spirit of God has placed them there to rule. This is part of God's chain of command within the church.
Everyone who serves in the armed forces recognizes it is important, vitally important, for the chain of command to be obeyed. Our military would be ineffective if privates could ignore sergeants or tell generals what to do. Similarly, God's chain of command within the church must be followed.
"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." Now understand me carefully when I say this is not our duty to these men. This is not our duty to these men. It is our duty but not to these men. It is our duty to God. Christ rules us through them.
What a responsibility, then, to be an elder and pastor. What an unbelievable responsibility. To rule the church in Christ's name, as Christ's representative. What an awesome and scary responsibility.
B Let's look at the next phrase: "They keep watch over you ..." They keep watch. Like shepherds guarding their flocks. That's the job of elders and pastors: to keep watch, to guard, to protect. Bodies and souls. To make sure your spiritual life is what it ought to be. To make sure worship and prayer and Bible reading are a priority. To make sure you seek first the Kingdom of God. To make sure you seek treasure in heaven.
Those who know me, know I do lots of reading. I make a point to not only read stuff I agree with. I want to know what is out there. I want to know worldly trends. I want to know what is the latest heresy. I want to know what kinds of foolishness passes for worship today. Why? So I can warn my people. So I can guard my people. So I can stand guard over my people. That needs to be a priority for those who watch over souls.
I spent some time visiting in the ICU of the hospital while I was writing this sermon. It occurred to me that elders and pastors are like ICU nurses with critically ill patients. But instead of just watching bodies, we also watch and guard and protect souls.Our spiritual leaders need to guard us against false teaching. Our spiritual leaders need to guard us against sin and temptation.
III The Profit of Obedience and Submission
A "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." Why? Here is the first reason: "They keep watch over you as men who must give an account." Someday God is going to ask me about my work as pastor. I don't want to stumble and stammer before Him because I did not keep watch. I want to tell Him, I need to tell Him, that I guarded His flock.
B "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." Why? Here is the second reason: "Obey them so their work will be a joy, not a burden." Submit because of the joy it brings your leaders. Like the angels of heaven, we rejoice over every sinner who repents. We rejoice when broken marriages are restored; when husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church; when wives submit to their husbands as to the Lord. We rejoice when people are filled with the Spirit rather than with wine or drugs. We rejoice when those hooked on pornography get hooked on Jesus. We rejoice when those who so easily skip worship faithfully attend both worship services.
You know, it can be sad work to be an elder or pastor. Members of the church can be so stubborn and rebellious and hard-hearted and critical. When God's people are like this, it robs the leaders of joy in ministry. "Obey them so their work will be a joy, not a burden."
I think of Jeremiah when I say this. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet because he cried a lot. He cried because the people of God were so stubborn and rebellious and stiff-necked. I don't know if Jeremiah ever found any joy in ministry. It seems to me he spent his entire ministry in anguish and grief. Don't turn me into a Jeremiah, congregation. Make my ministry, make the ministry of Pastor Joel, make the ministry of the elders, a joy. The fruit of obedience brings joy, much joy, great joy.
C "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." Why? Here now is a third reason. "Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you." Take note of how this verse ends. If you don't obey and submit, guess who gets hurt, guess who loses? You do. Because you are not following the pattern of God. Because you are out of sync with God's order for the church. Because you are not doing what is being taught in God's holy Word. It is for your good, your advantage, to obey and submit.
D "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." Members of the body who rebel against their leaders are a source of deep grief to the Lord. Because, remember, their rebellion is first of all against the Lord and not against the men He has appointed.
"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." To be in a state of rebellion is to also despise the blessing of church office. Remember, this is the gift of the ascended Christ to His church.
"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." Failure to obey and submit also puts your soul at risk. It makes you spiritually barren. It opens you to the attacks of Satan.
"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." This is what we are to do because of Jesus Who is better. This is what we are to do because of Jesus Who is once for all. This is what we are to do as people who are being watched both by God and an unbelieving and hostile world.
"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." This is what we are to do with prayer. "Pray for us," writes the author. Leaders need submission. But they also need prayer.
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