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A Healthy Response To Church Leadership - Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24.

A few weeks ago our team returned from Bolivia and we shared with you about our experience in the prison that we ministered at in Montero. The church that meets in that prison is larger than the sponsor church in the community. Pedro’s church assumed responsibility for this ministry seven years ago and when this happened the prison church was struggling. At that time there were only seventeen inmates who attended the services and the churches impact was negligible on the larger inmate community.

Seven years later, however, there is a large and vibrant congregation which gathers weekly for a church service. This service is not carelessly thrown together with little thought or care. No one is saying, “Why should we care how we do church?” On the contrary, this congregation is operating in a very structured and spiritually healthy manner from what I could tell. They had vibrant worship, they preached from the Scriptures, they took an offering and this poor congregation joyfully gave, they had announcements about weekly ministries, and the minister came up throughout the service and gave strong encouragements and exhortations to the congregation.

There was an aspect of the ministry that was subtle and it could be easily overlooked and by all of the other things that were going on. This prison church had biblical structures in place where they operated with a pastor and elders who were responsible for the care of their flock.

In that prison church there are spiritually mature men who help to care for the souls of that flock every other day of the week. Let me give you an example, we met a man who was the ‘seniors pastor’ for that congregation. He was an older gentleman and as a ‘shepherd’ and as an ‘overseer’ he was responsible for the care of the older members of the congregation.

You could tell when you talked to him that he took this responsibility very seriously. In fact, after we left someone told me that this pastor placed himself between an argument that happened between a member of the congregation and a younger inmate who was causing trouble. This man put himself in danger so that he could protect this member of the congregation. This man was being a faithful shepherd who was willing to lay down his comfort, security and even risk his health and life for the good of another brother.

I have told you these things about this church in the Bolivian prison so that we may greater appreciate the things we will see in our text today which is taken from three different texts from Hebrews 13. Our text this morning comes from the following verses: Hebrews 13:7, 17-19, 24. It says,Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith...Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner...Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings.

The connecting theme between all three of these verses is a participle that is found in each of these texts. In the ESV it is simply translated as ‘leaders’.

  • We read in verse 7, “Remember your leaders”.

  • We read in verse 17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them…”.

  • And we read in verse 24, “Greet all your leaders and all the saints.

The KJV translates these passages by saying,

  • Remember them which have the rule over you

  • Obey them that have the rule over you

  • Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints

We may shrink back from these commands but these things are put forward a very positive way in our text. These leaders are described as...

  • those who ‘speak the Word’ to the congregation (7).

  • those whose outcome of life is to be considered. (7).

  • these leaders whose faith we are to imitate (7).

  • these leaders who speak the Word of God in season and out of season and their biblical counsel is to be obeyed and submitted to (17).

  • men who ‘keep watch over the souls’ of God’s people (17)

  • leaders who are accountable to God (17).

  • leaders who need the prayers of their congregations (18).

  • leaders who have a clear conscience as to how they are living and ministering to others (18).

  • leaders who desire to act honorably in all things (18).

  • leaders who love being with the congregation- “Pray earnestly that I may be restored to you sooner”. (19)

  • leaders who shepherd a local congregation and serve among ‘all the saints’.

Hebrews 13:7

In Hebrews 13:7 we read, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

As we consider this verse let me address two important things about these leaders. Together these two qualities make for a minster who can be imitated by others.

  • First, we are to remember those leaders who spoke the word of God to us.

  • Secondly, those who speak the Word of God should display a faithfulness that will be commended by God and can rightly be imitated by those who consider them.

First, let us consider the words, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.Illustration: This week I spoke with a friend of mine who said that he has been thinking about a single encounter that he had with someone 20 years ago. This interaction between him and a stranger happened while he was at work and it only lasted for only a few minutes. However, in that short time they spoke the scriptures to each other. If they had talked about politics, sports, or about the weather, my friend probably would not remember this conversation; but because they talked about the Word of God he remembers that conversation to this very day.

If this is the case with my friend, then how much more ought we be able to remember our church leaders who have faithfully and consistently labored in the Word so that they can speak its life-giving, its grace-giving, its life-transforming message to their congregations every week?

The church I grew up in had a pastor who told us very little about himself as he preached. He always preached from the scriptures and he rarely turned our attention to himself. There were many people who would criticized him for being impersonal. Nowadays the opposite is true. Most young pastors spend a great deal of time talking about many other things besides the Word of God. Now, so many years later, I can honestly tell you that it is those ministers who consistently spoke the Word of God that I remember the most and have benefited greatly from!

There may be many men who can preach a ‘good sermon’ but their lives may not be worthy of imitation. Therefore, let us consider the next part of the verse, “Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith”.

The words, ‘way of life’ refers to the consistent and normal pattern of life that these leaders demonstrated. The leaders within the church are to make steady progress in the faith which can be observed and imitated by those around them. Paul says to Timothy, “...set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

It is true that the strongest leaders will still display some weaknesses and sinful characteristics but the pattern of their life will be one of consistently running the race that is marked out before them. When they fall, they will get back up. When they sin, they repent and look to Christ.  When disciplined by God, they persevere and grow in righteousness and holiness. When they are weak, they receive God’s grace and steadfastly endure to the end despite the trials and the obstacles set before them.

A faithful leader like this will be commended by they LORD and we can imitate their faith. Paul says again to Timothy, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.” And Paul says to the Corinthian church, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

We must ask ourselves, “How are we to imitate the faith of such ministers?

There are three attributes of faith that come to mind as we consider this question.

  • First, we are to imitate these leaders by receiving the whole body of truth that they had taught from the scriptures. Jude 1:3 speaks of how we are to contend for ‘the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints’.

  • Secondly, we are to imitate these leaders faith by believing these truths as they did.

  • Thirdly, we are to imitate these leaders and the faithfulness they displayed concerning these truths. They believed these things and they faithfully endured, overcame and finished their race and obtained the promises.

 In Ezra 7:10 we see a good description of a faithful leader among God’s people and how we are to respond to them and their ministry. We read, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD (and to believe it), and to do it and to teach His statues and rules in Israel.” Ezra studied the Word of God, believed it, obeyed it. As a result, all those who had been taught by him were to respond faithfully to respond in a similar manner concerning the Word of God.

We can also consider how we are to imitate the faith of those saints that we read about in Hebrews 11. First, those faithful saints believed God, His Word, and the promises that the LORD had made. Secondly, they accepted the Word of God and personally trusted it. Third, they responded in faith and lived faithfully to the very end. We are to imitate their example.

As I considered this verse I was appreciative of just how blessed our situation is as a congregation. Our founding pastor is still alive and his faith is still growing stronger all the time. We still get to hear and learn from our founding pastor Ray Haas on a consistent basis. Ray still teaches the Word of God and he sets an example for us that we can imitate far into the future.

Sadly, there will be a day, if the LORD does not return, when we will have to remember Ray and how he faithfully spoke the Word of God to us. We will reflect upon his life and contribution to this congregation and we will consider the outcome of his life. We will consider how his faithfulness was commended by God. Having done this we will determine to continue to imitate his faith and his faithfulness.

Now let me say two things as we look at Hebrews 13:17-19. First, it would be a great tragedy if after the death of a faithful minister the LORD did not raise up another qualified man to replace him. Secondly, it would be just as tragic if God did raise up a new generation of faithful elders but the saints in the church did not obey or submit to them as they continued to speak the Word of God to them.

As I considered these things I thought about the transition between Moses and Joshua. The book of Joshua begins with these words, “After the death of Moses…”. In verse two the LORD Himself says to Joshua, “Moses my servant is dead”.

The end of the book of Deuteronomy gives us a sense of loss that the Jewish community must have felt at this time, “There has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.” (34:9-12)

The death of Moses would have been unbearable had the LORD not prepared another leader to come after him. God did raise up a leader and his name was Joshua. We are told that he ‘was full of the spirit of wisdom’. (Dt. 34:9)

When Joshua began to lead the congregation responded well. They said to Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you, as he was with Moses!” (Joshua 1:16-17)

Over time we find that the faithfulness of Joshua and of the people brought about great blessings to God’s people. We read in Joshua 24:31, “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel.” (Oh that God would honor our obedience to our text today concerning these things.)

The ministry of Moses and Joshua was intended to point to Someone else that God would send to lead His people- the Christ. We see this in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 where Moses says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.

As we have seen in the book of Hebrews Jesus Christ was the Prophet, the Priest and the King who was to come. Jesus came and after providing redemption for His people He ascended back into heaven while promising that He would return again. Wouldn’t it have been terrible if Jesus had not provided continuing leadership for His church!

This tragedy did not happen as we read in Ephesians 4:12-16  where Jesus gave gifts to His church “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and from by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (4:12-16)

Hebrews 13:7 spoke to us about leaders who had died. Now Hebrews 13:17 shows us that God has provided a continuous stream of faithful leaders for His church. Therefore His congregation is now exhorted how they are to respond to them. We read, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Two exhortations are given at the beginning of this verse: obey and submit to the leaders. These two verbs are present tense imperatives which give a command that is to be obeyed by the whole congregation (these verbs are plural and refer to everyone). When these leaders speak the Word of God they are to be obeyed by the whole congregation.

The Word of God applies to all of God’s people and no one is excluded from responding with obedience and submission to it. I recently saw this as I was reading through the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 4 Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit and He immediately begins to preach everywhere. In Luke 4-5 we hear a lot about Jesus’ preaching but we do not get to hear our first sermon until Luke 6.

By this time many people were saying that they were Jesus’ disciples and they begin to call Him Lord. And yet, it appears that they would listen to Jesus and receive some things from Him while rejecting other things. In other words, they would stand in judgment over Jesus’ words and accept what they wanted and dismissed other things.

I say this because after Jesus preaches His sermon in Luke 6 we discover that Jesus is watching them and judging their response to His Word. Jesus says in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you.” Apparently, there were many in the crowds who made a profession that implied they were submitted to Jesus and that they were obeying Him but they were not.

Now let me ask you, “If these crowds responded this way to Jesus’ preaching how much more likely are we to need to be encouraged to submit to the teaching, preaching, and instruction of Christ’s elders, overseers, and shepherds in the church?” Paul commended the Thessalonians for this when he said to them, “...when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thess 2:13)

After these two commands are given to submit and to obey the congregation is then given an explanation and a reason for the commands, “for they (plurality of elders) are keeping watch (to be sleepless; to remain awake and to intently watch) over your souls (plural- the congregation), as those who will have to give an account (word; a report given through speech; Greek-logos) to God.

Consider how few people in this world have the blessing of having someone who is watching over their souls. We have people who will watch over our finances, our yards, our businesses, our children, our retirement plans, our physical health, our emotional health; yet, so few people have someone who will watch out for their souls.

I found it interesting that the Greek word for ‘account’, when we read ‘to give an account’, is the word logos. This means that there will be a time in the future when these leaders will testify, give a word, make a verbal report, and deliver to God an account for the souls of His people.

There are two ways that we should view these words. First, there is the larger context in which there is a time in the future when God’s rulers will have stand before the chief Shepherd when He appears at His second coming and give an account to Him for the souls of those under their care. According to James 3:1 these rulers will be judged with a greater strictness. However, when these rulers shepherd God’s people in a commendable way they will receive an unfading crown of glory according to 1 Peter 5:1-5.

Secondly, in a more immediate context these shepherds are to often appear before God in prayer to give an account before God of the condition of the souls of Gods people. They are to continually pray for the flock and intercede for the well being of God’s people. They are to often go to prayer, testify, give a word, make a verbal report, and deliver to God an account for the souls of the people under his care.

Because of these two things we are exhorted to, “Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Imagine the grief that a shepherd would feel when he gives to the LORD a daily account of the flock if he had to speak of the…

  • spiritual laziness and drifting away from Christ by the flock (Heb 2:1)

  • spiritual sleepiness and drowsiness of the flock (Ephesians 5:14)

  • dullness of hearing and slowness of growing of the congregation (Hebrews 5:11-6:8)

  • fact that so many are habitually not meeting together as that Day approaches (Hebrews 10:25)

  • refusal of so many to hear the Word of God and enter into the promised rest (Hebrews 3:7-4:13)

  • failure of some to receive the grace of God and instead become bitter and it spreads (Heb 12:15)

  • people who regard lightly the discipline of God and become weary and fainthearted (12:5)

There is no advantage for those believers who resist the elders preaching and their prayers regarding these things. But what joy there would be for the elder who prays and preaches and the congregation responds in faith with submission and obedience to the word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit!

With joy the shepherd would go to pray with thanksgiving for the blessings the congregation is experiencing.

  • With joy they speak of the health in every area of their lives

  • With joy they speak of the grace in their hearts

  • With joy they would pray to God about their faithfulness

  • With joy they would pray about their growth in the Word of God

  • With joy they would speak of their faith in God and love for the saints which is abounding

Since Hebrews 12:28 through Hebrews 13 we have seen that there are ways which we give acceptable worship to the LORD in reverence and awe. This morning we have discovered that how we respond to the rulers in the church is another way that we give to God acceptable worship in reverence and awe.


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