17 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 (ESV 13:17).
v. 17 The inspired writer is calling us to obey and submit to godly leadership in the church. Why? It is assumed that those in leadership are Holy Spirit lead and are truly concerned about the spiritual needs of those in the body. Moreover,
The heart of a person in leadership (e.g., group leader/teacher, elder, deacon) is expected to be humble and sensitive to God the Holy Spirit as he exercises his role. Why? He will have to give an account to God.
In fact, the Scriptures call all (followers of Christ) of us to be humble and yield to the Holy Spirit who indwells every genuine believer. Moreover, all genuine believers will give an account of themselves to God. (cf. James 4:10, 1Peter 5:5-6, Rom 14:12)
James does remind us “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Therefore, the role of leadership (elder, deacon, teacher) in the church is a holy calling and expected to be taken very seriously.
Pett (online) summarizes nicely the disposition of spiritual leaders to whom we must obey and submit:
“However we must remember, especially in these days, that the leaders themselves have to be tested by their own behaviour. Jesus had said, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you: but whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10.42-43). He was thus pointing out that such leaders can be tested out, and should be so. He was pointing out that the test of the truly great man of God is found in his humility as expressed at all times towards all (not just in an acted out scenario to some) and especially towards the lowliest. Once a minister becomes too conscious of his own authority he loses the right to that authority. It is only to those who clearly live showing that they know they must give account, and who live in true humility, that submission can be expected. It is God-given only to them.”
As spiritual leaders are led by the Holy Spirit and humbly teach and preach the gospel, their joy will be evident, especially as obedient followers submit and engage in the process of maturity to the glory of Jesus Christ. Any other process and outcome will only bring grief and is unprofitable to both leaders who groan and followers who don’t benefit.
Do we see how Spirit led leaders need Spirit led followers in order for the body to benefit?
How critical it is for disciples of Christ to examine themselves and constantly yield to the Spirit. All of us have to make a deliberate choice to walk humbly with God and our fellow brothers and sisters.
Can we disagree with the leadership or elders in the local church? What does it mean to submit and obey?
Qualified elders provide direction, teach, disciple, help the church achieve consensus, promote the saints’ growth into maturity, train future leaders, lead by example and guard the truth ( Ac 20:25-31, Ep 4:11-13, 1Ti 1:3, 3:4-5, 5:17, 6:20, 2Ti 1:13-14, 2:2, 15, 3:16-17, 4:2-4, Ti 1:9, 13, 2:15 and Heb 13:17). Church leaders are men of mature character who oversee, shepherd, teach, equip and coach. Every now and then they will need to call on the obstinate to submit to their leadership (Heb 13:17). (Steve Atkerson, NTRF.org)
Therefore, as we walk humbly, yielding to the Spirit, may we determine the nature of the disagreement and why we are choosing to disagree. We have to be persuaded by the truth as revealed in the Word of God.
An excellent article by Steve Atkerson is very persuasive from Scripture: Elder-Led Congregational Consensus appears to be a balanced biblical perspective worth exploring.
v. 18-19 “…Pray for us” or “Keep praying for us.” The writer is demonstrating his dependency on the supernatural power of God. Prayer: How often should we pray? 1 Thes 5:12ff How should we pray for others, especially leaders in this context? cf. Heb 4:14-16.
It is possible that the readers had accused the writer of some fault. For example, they may have attributed his absence from them to unworthy motives. Therefore, he proclaims v. 18 “Pray for us, for we are persuaded that we have a good conscience (Morris, 1981). Moreover,
As a Spirit-led man and inspired writer he goes on to express his determination “to live honorably in everyway.” Morris points out that “desire” here is weak. This statement is not merely a wish, but “The writer professes a firm determination to live the way indicated (p. 154).”
How determined are we to “live honorably” as we work out our differences with others?
v. 19 “I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner” (ESV). Again, the significance of prayer for each other is highlighted. In this context, pray, pray, pray, so the writer can be restored to the readers soon.
We really do not know what the circumstances for the writer that hindered him from being “restored.” It is certain it was something out of his control and he needed earnest prayer.
May we earnestly pray for others and our own circumstances: that God would be glorified through all things as we diligently do our part to be humble and obedient.
Is it important that we make an effort to intimately know others in order that we can pray genuinely?
v. 20 “God of peace…” praise God Who is our peace through all circumstances! Themes of the epistle: the blood, the eternal covenant, the lordship of Jesus, the importance of doing His will. Moreover, the writer also introduces: Jesus as our Shepherd. The Resurrection is specifically referred to here…
One of the major themes of Hebrews is the new covenant. This new covenant established by the blood of Jesus who resurrected from the dead will never be replaced and has replaced the old covenant. We are now “in Christ” by faith. Pett said,
“The Great Shepherd is brought forth from the dead bearing the blood of an eternal covenant. And those who look to Him enter within that covenant, and are sealed by His blood.”
v. 21 May our prayers be that God “equip” hence supply us with what we need to live this “in Christ” life. We see the writer’s prayer for the readers:
1. to be equipped with everything good for doing his will
2. may God work in us what is pleasing to him
3. Always “in Christ” through Jesus we live and have our being
4. Jesus always gets the glory for ever and ever!
v. 22 “Brothers, I urge…” could also be translated “I beg you.” “Brothers” highlights a softer appeal with affection. He wants to encourage his readers as he has done throughout the letter.
How do others perceive our approach in sharing our faith with them?
Do we have a sense of urgency fueled by a genuine supernatural love that others know Christ as Lord?
How about a genuine desire for brothers and sisters to mature and experience the power of God?
May our prayer be that God work in us what is pleasing to Him through authentic and dynamic relationships with other believers.
v. 23 The writer depended on relationships with other believers, (Timothy) even longing to be reunited with the readers of the letter.
v. 24 The recipients of the letter appear to be a group of believers making up the church body and not necessarily leaders.
v. 25 We persevere because of God’s grace. AMEN!
Atkerson, Steve http://www.ntrf.org/articles/article_detail.php?PRKey=2
Expositor’s Bible Commentary (1981). Frank E. Gaebelein (ed.)
Pett, Peter. http://www.angelfire.com/planet/lifetruth/hebrews3.html
The Reformation Study Bible. ESV R.C. Sproul (ed).
NIV Study Bible, 1984.