Obey your leaders and do what they say. They are watching over you, and they must answer to God. So don't make them sad as they do their work. Make them happy. Otherwise, they won't be able to help you at all. ~ Hebrews 13:17
Today, we return to our study of Hebrews 13 wherein the writer of Hebrews is giving to us practical application of the many doctrines we have learned throughout this book. Today's main subject is that of sacrificial submission to the God of the Bible. According to today's verse the believer's submission to God is seen in our submission to the teaching of godly leaders the Lord has placed in our lives.
In today's text we read, "Obey your leaders and do what they say. They are watching over you, and they must answer to God. So don't make them sad as they do their work. Make them happy. Otherwise, they won't be able to help you at all."
History makes it very clear that God mediates much of His rule in this world through men whom He has placed in authority. In Romans 13:1 we read, "Obey the rulers who have authority over you. Only God can give authority to anyone, and he puts these rulers in their places of power." Whereas, that verse in Romans 13 was written regarding all authority both saved and unsaved in this world, among believers, God has placed leaders. And, today's verse speaks into the context of a group of believers in Christ.
The word translated "obey" has the definite connection to the teaching provided, whereas the words "do what they say," has the definite connection to their God-given authority to lead. So, there is to be obedience to the teaching and submission to the authority. And, our obedience and submission is not our responsibility to these men, it’s our responsibility to God. And, God clearly holds these leaders responsible to lead us who are in their care on the behalf of Christ.
The phrase, "They are watching over you" is one word in the Greek. It simply means "leading" or "influencing." God has given to any group of believers in Christ certain men through whom He mediates His involvement in our lives. It is the God-given responsibility of these men to provide direction to the group, to teach the Word of God, to reprove, to rebuke, to exhort, and to do it with all patience and humility.
Perseverance in the truth about the Lord Jesus is one of the great themes of the entire letter of Hebrews. The Lord Jesus cares deeply about the well being of each believer's soul. This kind of spiritual care and concern is the very thing that characterizes the leadership that God puts in place. And, their primary motivation is that "they are watching over" our souls.
The next phrase in Hebrews 13:17 is "... they must answer to God."
In God's framework of the church, He has provided leaders who have the reputation of being led by the Spirit of God to rule in that group of believers, and every group has its God-given leaders. This does not mean that the leaders have carte blanche to do whatever they want to, they are not to be the dictators of the group. God placed them in the position they are in according to their responsiveness and sensitivity to the needs of the people in their care. The Bible is very clear that the leaders are the under-shepherds of Christ, and they each are responsible to the Lord for their decisions and treatment of the group of believers under their care. They have the responsibility to teach God's word, to warn of impending danger, and, to nurture each who may be injured and wounded in some way.
The next phrase in today's verse reads, "So don't make them sad as they do their work."
The word "sad" literally means "to grieve" or "to groan." The Apostle Paul expressed overwhelming joy in his letter written to the Philippians because they were responsive to the truth of God. In Philippians 1:3-4, he wrote, "3 Every time I think of you, I thank my God. 4 And whenever I mention you in my prayers, it makes me happy."
Since the Apostle had the heart of God to motivate him to lead the people to the Lord Jesus, they saw his heart and were submissive to the Lord. This is the way God intended this to work. And, the acquiring of God's heart on the behalf of the leader is of utmost necessity. This is primarily done as the leader follows God for himself, and in doing so, he gains God's heart for the people. The leader does this through the study of God's word and prayer for each member in the group.
The next phrase in today's verse reads, "Make them happy."
In 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 we read, "19 After all, when the Lord Jesus appears, who else but you will give us hope and joy and be like a glorious crown for us? 20 You alone are our glory and joy!" Biblical leaders are made happy when those who follow their teaching follow the Lord with a whole heart and who learn to yield our lives to the Lord Jesus.
The last phrase in Hebrews 13:17 reads, "Otherwise, they won't be able to help you at all."
When we do not obey the truth and we do not submit to the God-placed authority over us, we lose because we fail to experience intimacy with God by responding to His Word. God has been known to use a donkey to get His word across to us. So, when we do not obey and submit to Him, we find ourselves out of sync with what He is doing in this world. Responding to the Word of God is like inviting a sonar into our souls which is always connected to the satellite of God.
The Lord Jesus told His disciples, "I’m telling you that my joy might be in you and your joy might be full." Our submission to God yields His fruit in and to and through our lives. And, one of the many fruits is His joy expressed in, to, and through us. Rebellion to God not only prevents us from receiving God's instruction into our hearts which results in spiritual barrenness, it also robs us of our intimacy with Him and His truth. This is why we should go outside the camp to the Lord Jesus with regularity.