Series on Hebrews, VI Superior Piety, B Superior Portion, Part I Text:13:7,8 and 17, Leading in Love,


I have divided this portion, Hebrews 13:7-17 into two parts. Next week at Communion we will be looking at verses 9-16. Today we contemplate verses 7,8 and 17, Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. These verses  deal with a subject dear to all of our hearts: I’m being facetious. The subject is obeying people. It was R.C. Sproul who was discussing Christian marriage when he said he never met a Christian woman who wouldn’t be willing to submit to Jesus, but when it comes to submitting to her husband, that’s a different matter. This pretty much sums up our situation. Not one of us finds it easy to submit to another human being in any context whether religious or civil, community or family. The reason is that other human beings are so imperfect, so sinful, and so prone to error. But that’s what these verses are about. Think for a moment about your children. While they are small you want and expect them to do what you say. Their health and welfare depends upon it. What is it that makes them test you at every turn? They are constantly trying to find out whether you mean it or not. There is something in the human heart that rebels against authority. Our mistake is to think that we can outgrow this tendency, because we never do. When our children get older they start focusing on their points of disagreement. We start negotiating. But some things in life are not negotiable. Christian maturity is the ability to tell the difference between what is and what is not disputable. This applies equally to those who lead and those who follow, and to all ages and circumstances. I will direct your attention today to three standards found in our text. If you are not examining your attitude in the light of these then you are not growing in Christ. If you are not learning to submit to God by submitting to his appointed leaders in the home, the church, and society, then you are deceiving yourself about your spiritual maturity. All legitimate ordained authority is spiritual because it all depends on God for its establishment.

I Spiritual Authority is Principled

When I say it is principled, I mean it is not arbitrary.  The entire plea of the writer is based on his introduction. “Remember your leaders who spoke the Word of God to you.” God has spoken and His Word is law. Whether it is parents in the home, or elders in the church, or civil magistrates, or managers in the workplace, all have an obligation to lead in love. Loving leadership means requiring what God requires, and not requiring what he does not require. Jesus gave to his apostles the keys of the kingdom of heaven. He said you have the power to shut the kingdom to some and open it to others. But as the Westminster Confession properly states, this authority is based on Scripture. It says in Chapter 30, Paragraph II, “To these officers of the Church the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed; by virtue whereof, they have power, respectively to retain, and remit sins; to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by The Word of God and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the Gospel; and by absolution from censures as occasion shall require.”  This is true of all authority delegated by God whether parents, or teachers, or civil magistrates or others. All in authority must answer to God on judgment day as to whether they have exercised that authority in accord with God’s revealed will in his word. Those who follow and obey must always be conscious that the ultimate authority is God’s. Consequently they are never to obey men when human authority contradicts God’s Word. Indeed in such a situation they are bound to disobey. Both leading in  love and following in faith must be grounded in the ultimate authority of scripture. What God requires is all  that matters.

II Spiritual Authority is Problematic

The Author next says that we are to consider the outcome of the lives of those who lead and imitate their faith. That outcome is unequivocally stated to be Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever. The universal problem in submitting to authority is the deficiency of those who lead. Defective and disappointing leadership inevitably leads to a rebellious attitude on the part of those who follow. This is illustrated over and over in families, in corporations, and in churches. Those who are commanded to submit inevitably raise the question of the quality of leadership and sooner or later they stop following because of a lack of respect for those who lead. This is not God’s answer to the problem. Look carefully at these verses. First of all we are not asked to pretend that those in the place of authority are perfect. We are to imitate the spirit of their lives and not the specific actions which may often be wrong. Secondly we are given a model, Jesus Christ. When human leaders fail where are we to look? Not at the disappointing circumstances, not at the sinful failures, and not at the lapses, but look to Christ.  This is equally true whether our leaders are Christians or unbelievers. The person we are following is Jesus. Our submission is an evidence of our loyalty to Him. As long as we are not commanded to do what is wrong, or forbidden to do what is right, we are to obey because of Jesus. Listen to the apostle Peter, who, by the way, had difficulty in learning to follow in faith! I Peter 2:13-15 and 18-20 says, Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. Peter makes quite clear the reasons why we are to do this and holds before us the example of Christ in verses, 21-25, To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.  For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. Bad leadership is not a legitimate reason for rebellion. In fact it is an occasion for evangelism by example. In I Peter 3:1 and 2 the apostle speaks to wives about bad husbands, Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. I know that this contradicts our prevailing cultural training, but it is the Word of God. And of course Peter equally tells the husbands to be good, kind, and understanding leaders

III Spiritual Authority is Paramount

In verse 17, Peter exhorts us, Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.  Please notice that everyone is under authority except God. Even Jesus in his incarnation was under authority. He was always careful to do those things which were pleasing to His Father. In His incarnation as the God man, His mediatorial  mission, He is so subject to the Father that Paul says in I Corinthians 15:24-28, Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ.  When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. This does not mean that Jesus is not equal to God, because He is God, but rather it refers to an eternal order of submission in the eternal Trinity. This is the pattern. Those who lead must give account. Those who follow must obey or they hurt themselves. The only way to spiritual maturity is through submission. This is the reality at the core of the universe, and in the very nature of the triune God. God put  Adam in Eden, and said you are under authority. Adam said I am not. God assumed a human nature, and as the last Adam demonstrated what it means to be under authority even to death. Is it hard? He prayed Father If it is possible let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not my will but thine be done. Is it hard for you? Yes, but what would you expect in a fallen world? Stop making excuses. Everybody does the same thing. The minute they are indicted for not submitting, they point out what is wrong with the leader! God is not immune. In the garden Satan implied that God was being devious. You don’t have to follow he said because God is tricking you.  Listen to the story from Matthew 8:5-13, When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour. What Jesus is saying is that this Gentile centurion has demonstrated the essence of genuine faith because he understands what it means to be under authority and he submits to Christ. Many will come Jesus says, and do the same thing. Submission is what God cares about. Submission is the essence of true saving faith.