“Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Hebrews 13:7).
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
“Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints” (Hebrews 13:24).
This is the second time in Hebrews that we see the church or congregation. Though the book of Hebrews is not written to a particular church, as most of Paul’s epistles were, the church is never out of sight. In Heb. 10:25 we are reminded of the importance of the assembly, and in chapter 13 we are reminded of the necessity of a right relationship with church leaders. From the day of Pentecost, the assembly has been the focal point of God’s work in this age (Ac. 2:41-42). The apostles established the first churches and left this as the pattern for the rest of the age (Ac. 14:23; Tit. 1:5). It is the church that is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Ti. 3:15). Much of the New Testament is written directly to individual churches.
Three times in chapter 13 the writer of Hebrews admonishes his readers to relate to their spiritual rulers according to God’s will. This is a fundamental aspect of a New Testament church. There must be the right leaders, and they must lead in a biblical manner, and the members must follow them and relate to them in a biblical manner.
The repetition shows the importance of this matter. It is impossible to have a sound New Testament church without the right leaders and without a right relationship between the leaders and the people.
Pastors are God’s gifts to churches (Eph. 4:11-12). They are essential. Good leaders are exceedingly valuable. The first thing that Titus was to do in setting in order the things that were lacking was to ordain qualified elders (Tit. 1:5-9). Many professing Christians have the idea that they don’t need pastors, that God is their ruler and they don’t need men, but this philosophy flies in the face of Scripture. Every believer should ask himself, “Who has the rule over me spirituality under God?” because three times in Hebrews 13 we are told how to relate to those who “rule over you.” It is certain that pastoral authority has been abused at times, but that is no reason to discard or discount it altogether. Every kind of authority has been abused in this sinful world, but that does not mean that we are free to ignore it. God has ordained that men be subject to higher powers (Ro. 13:1), and this is true both in the secular and in the spiritual realms. Churches are to be governed by a combination of pastor (elder, bishop) and congregational rule. This is what we see in Acts 6. The elders gave the standards for the deacons, the people selected them, and the elders ordained them (Ac. 6:3-6). Everything was overseen by the elders, which is why they are called “bishops.” This is a model of a church properly and scripturally governed. (Exactly how the pastors and congregation share authority is something that each church must decide before God under the direction of the Holy Spirit.)
Lessons about the rulers
The authority of the rulers
- The word for “rule” is the same Greek word in all three verses (Heb. 13:7, 17, 24). It is hegeomai, meaning “to lead the way, to be chief, to preside, govern” (Mounce). It is translated “governor” (2 times, Mt. 2:6; Ac. 7:10) and “chief” (4 times, Lu. 22:26; Ac. 14:12; 15:22, 23).
- Pastors have real authority but it is not a lordly authority after a worldly sense; it is a shepherd’s authority. “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Pe. 5:3). We see this in Hebrews 13:17, where the ruler’s role is described in terms of watching for the souls of the believers. See also Mr. 10:42-45; 1 Co. 3:5-9; 2 Co. 1:24; 3 Jo. 9-10. The pastor’s authority is in the spiritual sphere. In contrast, some pastors have attempted to lord it over every aspect of people’s lives, interfering with every decision, wanting the people to be dependent on them, forbidding them to do things that are not forbidden in Scripture, and putting obligations upon them that go beyond the bounds of Scripture.
The qualification of the rulers
- God’s Word emphasizes the high qualifications of church leaders in two chapters of Scripture (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1), and we see their qualifications summarized in Hebrews 13. When the leaders are qualified according to God’s standards, the church members can more easily submit to their leadership and follow them. The fact that the standards for the leaders are mentioned in this passage is another reminder that God’s people are not to blindly follow men but are to submit to those who give clear evidence of a divine call and who are scripturally qualified.
- They are sound in doctrine (“who have spoken unto you the word of God,” Heb. 13:7). They are the men described in Titus 1:9 -- “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”
- They have strong faith (“whose faith follow” Heb. 13:7). Qualified leaders are men of faith. They have sure, confident faith in Christ for salvation, like Peter, who said, “we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (Joh. 6:69), and like Paul, who said, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Ti. 1:12). Men who are unsure of their saving relationship with Christ are not qualified to lead the church. Qualified leaders also have faith for godly Christian living and for ministry. They live by faith, not by sight. This means that they live by God’s Word (Ro. 10:17). They live by faith in the matter of their own finances, putting God first and expecting Him to meet their needs (Mt. 6:33). They live by faith in the matter of separation from the world (1 Jo. 2:15-17). We can’t see with our eyes that the devil is the god of this world (2 Co. 4:4) or that this world is in rebellion with God (Jas. 4:4) or that this world is passing away (1 Jo. 2:17) and that it is therefore God’s will that His people not be the friend of the world (Jas. 4:4), not love the world (1 Jo. 2:15-16), not be conformed to the world (Ro. 12:2). Separation from the world is the work of faith. They live by faith in the matter of child discipline, chastening their children and expecting God to bless their efforts (Pr. 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15). They live by faith in the matter of church discipline (Mt. 18:17-20; 1 Co. 5). Discipline is always a fearful thing, and it can only be done when the church is led by men of faith in God. They live by faith in the matter of the Great Commission (Mr. 16:15). They seek to get the gospel to every creature regardless of the church’s visible resources. They step out by faith. They send out missionaries by faith. They live by faith in the matter of enforcing God’s standards in the church for deacons (1 Ti. 3:8-13), for other workers (1 Co. 4:2; 2 Co. 8:19-22), for sacred music (Col. 3:16), etc. They live by faith in standing against the enemies of Christ within and without. They lock horns with false teachers by faith, expecting God to bless their efforts (Tit. 3:9-11). They stand against the government by faith if the government stands against Christ (Ac. 5:28-29). They live by faith by preaching against sin and error plainly, reproving, rebuking, exhorting (2 Ti. 4:2). They don’t draw back from the “negative” aspects of the ministry, because they are men of faith in God and their eyes are upon God, not man. They live by faith by preaching the imminent return of Christ (Mt. 24:44; Ro. 13:12; Php. 4:5; 1 Th. 5:4-8; 1 Pe. 4:7). Many church leaders do not preach this, because they are not men of faith. It has been 2,000 years since these things were written, and it doesn’t look like Christ’s return is imminent, so they don’t preach it, and as a consequence their churches are settled down in this world and don’t have a pilgrim character. Only men of faith can lead a church in God’s will. The leaders are to have faith that can be seen and followed. If the leaders are not men of true and strong faith, how can new believers learn to walk by faith? How can the church be a church of faith? I think of a pastor in Texas who led his church to give their building fund to a missionary church in another country. That missionary church had built a building, but they needed help to construct the roof and weather-seal the building before the annual rains came. The church in Texas had a savings fund toward building their own building, but they followed the pastor’s leadership in giving a large portion of that fund to the missions church. It was a big step of faith. The pastor believed Christ’s promise, “Give, and it shall be given unto you” (Lu. 6:38). And that is exactly what happened. The church stepped out by faith and helped another church, and they soon had their own building debt free by the blessing of God. If the pastor had not been a man of faith, this would not have happened.
- They have a good manner of Christian living (“considering the end of their conversation” Heb. 13:7). This standard is described in detail in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Godly living is a necessary qualification for pastors and elders because the character of the church depends upon it. God’s people are exhorted to follow the faith and example of their leaders. If the pastors’ lives are not right, the people will not have the proper example to follow and God’s work on earth will be seriously hindered. Therefore, pastors must have the right kind of personal testimony and family life. How grievously God’s work has suffered because of pastors who do not have faith or the right kind of “conversation”!
- They watch for souls (Heb. 13:17). They are ready and able to care for the spiritual lives of the people. They are men who are committed to the ministry, men who care for the church. They are not men who live for themselves. They are busy watching over the sheep that God has given them.
The work of the rulers
- They do the work of ruling (“rule over you”). This is a big work. It consists of overseeing all of the ministry and business of the church. This work is encompassed in the term “bishop.” They are overseers, superintendents. They lead and oversee every aspect of the church to make sure that everything is done according to God’s will. They oversee the services, the training programs, the evangelistic outreaches, women’s ministries, youth ministries, children’s ministries. Though they don’t do all of the work, they lead and oversee all of the work.
- They do the work of speaking the Word of God (“who have spoken unto you the word of God,” Heb. 13:7). In Acts 6:4, the apostles said, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” The proper ministry of the Word is essential to a sound, fruitful church. The flock must be fed a good diet. Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep” (Joh. 21:16-17). Peter, in turn, instructed all elders to “feed the flock of God which is among you” (1 Pe. 5:2). Paul said to the elders, “feed the church of God” (Ac. 20:28). Paul said to Timothy, “give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Ti. 4:13). The whole Word of God is the proper diet for God’s sheep, and preaching and teaching the whole Word of God must be the goal. The whole church should be a Bible School, and the pastors are the principals and chief teachers. Ministering the Word requires a lot of study and preparation. It requires that the preacher carve out of his daily schedule serious time for this essential business. Ministering the Word requires learning how to deliver Bible messages in an effectual manner. Ministering the Word requires training teachers and preachers to multiply the ministry (2 Ti. 2:2).
- They do the work of watching for souls (Heb. 13:17). They are men who care about the spiritual condition of the people. They aren’t content to let the people be lukewarm and worldly. Pastors are given watchcare over the Lord’s flock and they have the responsibility to present it back to Him in good shape. “warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28). The flock is not their own; it is loaned to them for safekeeping. If they do not feed the sheep properly and do not protect them from the wolves and do not go after the spiritually wayward, they will be judged by the Great Shepherd. The pastor will give account for his teaching, for his pastoring, for his example, for his decisions, for everything. Thus James says, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (Jas. 3:1).
Lessons about the members’ relationship with the rulers
They are to remember the rulers (“Remember them which have the rule over you,” Heb. 13:7).
- This means to remember that one has spiritual leaders and therefore that one has an obligation to them. It means to remember that God has appointed some in the church as rulers. That many church members have forgotten this, is evident by the way that they act. They act as if they themselves are rulers, that they are equal in authority to rulers, or that they don’t need rulers. Believers who attempt to live the Christian life apart from a proper New Testament church with duly ordained pastor-elders are disobeying the clear teaching of the Word of God. Such cannot obey Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24, because they have none that rule over them. I had a conversation some years ago with a man who was disgruntled with the church. He told me he was leaving and wasn’t going to join any other church. He was fed up. He was finished with church. I said, “Who will have the rule over you?” He replied, “God.” I replied, “But God’s Word plainly says that you should remember and obey those who have the rule over you. You can’t say that you submit to God when you refuse to submit to any church leaders.” Many deacons have failed to “remember them that have the rule over you.” Most Southern Baptist congregations are ruled in a practical sense by the deacons and even by the wives of the deacons. They have pastors but the pastors are more like hired preachers with little authority. This is a failure to obey Hebrews 13:8, “Remember them which have the rule over you.” God has nowhere appointed deacons and the heads of women’s committees as rulers of the church. In 1909, J. Frank Norris was called as the pastor of First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas. At the time, it was a typical Southern Baptist congregation that was ruled by deacons and committees. After two years, Norris began to preach strongly against the lukewarmness and worldliness of the church members, and the “head” of the deacon board called him to his office and fired him. Instead of leaving, Norris fired the head of the deacons and dissolved all church boards and committees. He also fired the worldly choir director, “a beer-guzzling Dutchman who led the choir on Sunday and played for beer gardens during the week,” and then he fired the deacons who supported the worldly man. That church had failed to “remember them which have the rule over you,” and they were reminded of this obligation by a pastor who refused to be led by the congregation.
- To remember them means to treat them as God instructs. We see this in 1 Th. 5:12-13. The command of verse 12, “to know them which labour among you and are over you in the Lord,” is explained in the next verse, “And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.” It means to love them and honor them. It means to support them with double honor (1 Ti. 5:17-18). It means to think about them so as to be an encouragement to them.
They are to follow the faith of the rulers (“whose faith follow” Heb. 13:7).
- Qualified church leaders are men of faith, as we have seen. They have a know-so faith in Christ for salvation, and they live by faith in their daily lives and ministries. They lead the church in a life of faith in God by believing God’s Word. We have seen in Hebrews 11 that it is impossible to please God without faith (Heb. 11:6).
- Their faith is to be followed by the church. The leaders must teach the church how to live by faith. It is one of their most important tasks. They must teach the new believers to live by faith, and they must remind the old believers to be sound in faith (Tit. 2:2). God’s people must learn to live by faith in every area of their lives: in regard to prayer, in regard to walking as pilgrims, in regard to making wise decisions, in regard to setting priorities, in regard to the use of time, in regard to finances, in regard to giving, in regard to obeying Christ’s Great Commission.
They are to follow the conversation of the rulers (“considering the end of their conversation” Heb. 13:7).
- The leaders are to set the example for the church in every area: in love for Christ, in prayer, in Bible study, in holiness, in marriage, in child training, in non-conformity to the world, in the use of finances, in music, in expecting Christ’s return, in evangelism.
- The church is to follow the good example of the leaders, considering the end of their manner of life. The “end” of good Christian living is the blessing of God both in this life and in the next.
They are to obey the rulers (“Obey them that have the rule over you,” Heb. 13:17).
- The word translated “obey” (peitho) here is not the normal Greek word for obey (which is the word nupakouo, Eph. 6:1, 5; Col. 3:20, 22; 2 Th. 3:14; Heb. 5:9; 11:8; 1 Pe. 3:6). Peitho is translated “persuade” 22 times. The meaning is “to be persuadable.” It reminds us of the Bereans who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Ac. 17:11). They were ready and eager to obey Paul if they could see that he was teaching according to Scripture. To obey the church leaders properly is a “readiness” kind of obedience. Compare Titus 3:1, “to be ready to every good work.” It is to be ready to obey, eager to obey, cheerful to obey. The Corinthians had this mindset in regard to giving (“a ready mind,” 2 Co. 8:19; 9:2). It is the mindset of submission to God and His Word which makes one eager to obey those He puts over me, so long as they are faithful to God’s Word. It is the opposite of being stubborn and resistant to the man’s teaching and leading. It is the opposite of being a hearer but not a doer. The peitho mindset is the one that brings spiritual growth and blessing. It is the mindset that produces a godly, unified, fruitful church. “Thus, this is not blind obedience to which our teacher refers, but obedience after thoughtful consideration that results in persuasion--all the stronger base for obedience. Those of us who demand obedience without reason, although that is necessary at times of childhood or emergency, are likely to get chameleon Christians who change orientation every time some golden-mouthed authoritarian happens along” (The Preacher’s Commentary).
- Peitho is also translated “trust” nine times (2 Co. 1:9; 10:7; Php. 2:24; 3:4; Heb. 2:13; 13:18), so it has the idea of submitting in a trusting way. But the trust is not in man; it is in God. When I obey them that have the rule over me, I am trusting God to lead them and give them wisdom. I am trusting the God who has ordained that the churches be led by certain men who have authority to be rulers.
- Obedience to pastoral authority is an act of the will. The Spirit of God says, “Submit yourselves.” Obedience to human rulers is always a difficult matter for a sinner, even a saved one, because the “old man” inherited from Adam is rebellious and stubborn. Furthermore, elders are far from perfect. One is always tempted to think, “Who is this man to tell me what to do! He isn’t so very perfect himself.” Obedience even to the most respectable human authority, therefore, must be an act of self-sacrifice. I submit to those that God has put over me as unto the Lord and not merely as unto a man. That is how a wife can submit herself to her husband. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). She doesn’t surrender her will to a fallible man; she surrenders her will to the infallible Lord through that man.
- Obedience to pastoral authority is a serious matter and cannot be ignored without consequences (Heb. 13:17). The Bible says that it is “unprofitable” for brethren to be a grief to their pastors because of their rebellion or stubbornness or laziness or carnality. Unless the pastor is teaching or living contrary to the Word of God in such a manner that I must resist him in order to be faithful to Christ, he should have joy from my life and service in the church. He should be encouraged by how I love and heed the Word of God, by how I am growing in Christ, by how I am diligently serving the Lord, by how I am supporting the cause of Christ with my finances, by my faithfulness, by my zeal, by my compassion, by my holiness. It is good for every believer to ask himself, “What kind of account would the pastor give of me if he were to stand before Christ this very day? What can I change so that the pastor has more joy when he gives this account?”
- Obedience to pastoral authority is not absolute. Bible believers do not blindly follow their spiritual leaders. God’s people are to follow their leaders as they follow the Word of God. We see in Heb. 13:7 that “the word of God” is the absolute standard and as long as the leaders are speaking the Word of God, they are to be obeyed. “They are not to make laws of their own, but to interpret the laws of God; nor is their interpretation to be immediately received without examination, but the people must search the scriptures, and so far as the instructions of their minister are according to that rule they ought to receive them” (Matthew Henry).
They are to salute the rulers (Heb. 13:24).
- This is the Greek aspazomai, which is always translated “salute” or “greet,” except for Heb. 11:13, where it is translated “embrace.” It is used 46 times in Acts and the Epistles for the saluting of the brethren one to another. In Romans 16, the word is used 18 times in greeting to the brethren at Rome by Paul and his co-laborers.
- In Heb. 13:24, the salute is to be toward one’s leaders. To salute the rulers means to greet them in a loving, honorable manner. It is a showing forth of, a demonstration of, love and honor. The law of Moses said, “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD” (Le. 19:32). It is impossible to honor God properly without honoring one’s elders. The rock & roll pop culture has tried to destroy this, but God’s people are not to follow the culture of this world. In regard to those who are “over you in the Lord,” we are commanded by God “to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Th. 5:12-13). Saluting them is one way to demonstrate this. Pastors and preachers should not be ignored. I have attended hundreds of churches as a visiting preacher, and I have found that it is rare for people to approach the preacher and to greet him. A few do this, but only a few. I have often commented on this to host pastors, and they will say something like, “Well, they might be shy to do that,” or, “They don’t know what to say to you,” or, “They are preoccupied with their friends.” But God commands that His people salute rulers, and that would include visiting preachers by application.
- Note that they were instructed to “salute all them that have the rule over you.” They were not show favoritism and be divided into cliques. The carnal Corinthians were divided into followers of Paul and followers of Apollos (1 Co. 3:4). I think of churches in which some deacons and members have formed clicks around an associate pastor and treated the senior pastor with “a cold shoulder.” Many times an associate pastor has encouraged this type of thing to the detriment of the church.
- To salute one’s rulers sincerely means that you are on good speaking terms with them, that you aren’t harboring ill will or bitterness toward them. If there is ill will, it must be dealt with by confession of sin and when necessary by honest discussion with the concerned parties.
- The salutation of church leaders must be sincere. It must not be hypocritical. J. Frank Norris described some of the deacons that were at First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas, when he became the pastor in 1909. He said they would “brag on me to my face and stick a knife in my back.”
- This should be learned in childhood. Parents should teach their children to be friendly toward preachers and other leaders. It is not uncommon for children to be shy and withdrawn, but they need to learn that this is selfish. If an adult greets them, they must be taught to return the greeting readily and cheerfully. If a child refuses to greet an adult, that is dishonoring. If he refuses to obey the parent’s instruction to greet an adult, that is disobedience. To ignore this type of thing is a failure in child discipline. Not only should children be taught to return a greeting, they should also be taught to take the initiative in greeting adults and leaders.
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