The Church Member’s Relationship With the Leaders
December 7, 2023
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
The following is excerpted from the Way of Life Commentary Series, Hebrews -

“You can’t say that you submit to God when you refuse to submit to any church leaders.”
They are to remember the rulers (“Remember them which have the rule over you,” Heb. 13:7).

 - This means to remember that I have spiritual leaders and I have 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 manner 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 13:7, “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 according to God’s instruction. 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” (
peítho) here is not the normal Greek word for obey (which is the word hupakoúo, Eph. 6:1, 5; Col. 3:20, 22; 2 Th. 3:14; Heb. 5:9; 11:8; 1 Pe. 3:6). Peítho 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 peítho 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).

 - Peítho 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 only; 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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