A Healthy Church Member is a Humble Follower (Part2)

April 19, 2015 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos


We are continuing our study on the 9th mark of a healthy church member, which is a humble follower.

  As I mentioned before, the bible teaches us that the attitudes and actions of church members towards their leaders have a lot to do with the health of a church. If members are submissive and obedient to their leaders in the church, you will have a healthy church. If not, you will have a sickly and problematic church.   Last week, we looked at 1Thes 5:12-13 and learned four attitudes and actions humble followers have toward their leaders.  
  • They are teachable

  • They know, recognize, or respect their leaders

  • They esteem their leaders very highly in love

  • They live at peace with them

  Today, we are going to look at another passage, Hebrews 13:17, and from this verse we are going to find out other attitudes and actions of church members towards their leaders.   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.

the context of the book of Hebrews.

  The book of Hebrews was written by an unknown author to a congregation who were mostly believers, although some were merely Christians in name. More specifically, the first recipients of this book were Jewish believers who were familiar with the OT and who were being persecuted for their faith. In the face of this, some were running the risk of leaving Christ and going back to Judaism and that system of worship, thus becoming apostate.   The purpose of the epistle was to warn them not to do that and to reassure them that their faith in Jesus as the Messiah was secure and legitimate so that they will persevere and remain faithful to Christ.   The Book of Hebrews can be divided into two major sections:the first deals with doctrinal issues (1:1—10:18), and the second focuses on practical living (10:19-13:25).   In the more doctrinal section of the epistle the author uses careful exposition of particular OT passages to show the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. From the OT, Christ is shown to be superior to angels, to Moses and to Aaron and his priestly descendants.   The author is arguing that the sacrifices of the old covenant are of no advantage now that the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus has been offered.   In light of the exposition of the superiority of Christ and his salvation, the author exhorts the believers to faith and perseverance. In chapter 11, the author gives a whole list of men and women of faith who serve as examples of faithfulness and perseverance.   Inthe last chapter, chapter 13, the author addresses some specific points of concern. The writer mentions the topic of love with its different expressions: love for the brothers, for strangers, for prisoners, and for those who are mistreated (13:1-3). Next the author talks about marriage, morality, and contentment. Next, the author deals about offering of sacrifices that are pleasing to God. He warns them also against being carried away by "all kinds of strange teachings." Then he talks about how members are to relate with their leaders. And finally, he requests for prayer before he gives his benediction and final greetings.   So that’s what the book of Hebrews is all about.     What strikes me about this book besides its most important theme, which is the superiority of Christ and the warning not to abandon faith but to remain faithful to Him, is the fact that at the end this long exhortation, we have a command from the author that deals with how the members are to treat their leaders. The author here does something that is similar to what the apostle Paul did in the closing of his letter to the Thessalonians. At the closing of his letter, in 1Th 5:12-13, Paul had a word to say about the relationship of members to their leaders. Here in the book of Hebrews, towards the closing of this book, the author also has a word to say about how members are to relate with their elders. What a striking similarity.   Thistells me how important it is for the members to have the right attitude and actions towards their leaders if they want the church to be healthy. A healthy church member is one who is a humble follower. You cannot have a healthy church member who is not a humble follower of church leadership.   And so again let us look at what a humble follower looks like based on Hebrews 13:17.   As we did before we are first going to look at the description of leaders and then the members’ attitudes and actions toward leadership.

The Description of Leaders

  Heb 13:17 - 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.   Leaders are described in two ways:

1.   They keep watch over the souls of God’s flock.

  Heb 13:17 - they are keeping watch over your souls     The Greek word here for leadersis a general term that describes men in any leadership position but it does not indicate what kind of leaders they are. What we do know is that the leaders here do not refer to worldly leaders because according to Hebrews 13:7, these leaders “spoke the word of God,” which probably means that they labored in preaching and teaching God’s Word.   Although the word leadersdoes not specifically refer to elders, certainly, this could include the elders who lead the church. These elders are those who do not lord it over others but are “servant leaders—men who humbly use their gifts and abilities to serve the interests and meet the needs of those they lead.”   Alexander Strauch:   The leaders (or Elders) are “keeping watch over” the souls of those under their care. The verb, “keep watch” conveys the idea of vigilance, tireless effort, self-discipline, great care, and concern that could even lead to the loss of sleep. [E.g., barangay tanods, security guards, shepherds of the sheep.]   These leaders keep watch over the “souls” of God's people.They seek the spiritual well-being of God’s flock.   Matthew Henry says,   “They watch for the souls of the people… to build them up in knowledge, faith, and holiness. They are to watch against every thing that may be hurtful to the souls of men, and to give them warning of dangerous errors, of the devices of Satan, of approaching judgments; they are to watch for all opportunities of helping the souls of men forward in the way to heaven.”   Strauch:   The book of Hebrews itself illustrates the critical need for spiritual watchmen. Some of the Hebrew Christians seriously neglected the truth, were spiritually apathetic, compromised with Judaism’s old ways, feared hardship, were bitter, became backsliders, and disregarded God’s undershepherds. So, the shepherds who cared for this needy flock faced situations requiring vigilant attention.      

2.   They will give an account to God regarding how they fulfilled their duty.

  Heb 13:17 - … as those who will have to give an account.     Ideas from Strauch:   The phrase, “as those who will give an account,” greatly intensifies the solemn responsibility of watching over the Lord’s people. God will ask, “What have you done?” And the elders will have to answer Him.   God’s word to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 3:18,19 give us some idea of this accountability:   18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.   19 But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.   Paul also understood this accountability before God when he said in Acts 20:26-27, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”   “When we, as God’s people, understand that our leaders must give an account to God for their leadership, we will be much more tolerant, understanding, and appreciative of their actions. We will be more willing to yield and submit to them.”     Summary: So here in Hebrews 13:17 leaders are described in two ways:
  • They keep watch over the souls of God’s flock.
  • They will give an account to God regarding how they fulfilled their duty.

The members’ attituDes and actions toward leadership


1.   They are to obey and submit to their leaders.

  Heb 13:17 - Obey your leaders and submit to them     Strauch:   It is tremendously important that Christians know what God says about submission and obedience to church leaders. Such knowledge is necessary for one’s spiritual protection, growth, and blessing.   By using two imperative verbs of command, "obey" and "submit," the writer intensifies his charge. Thus his message is conveyed as a matter of utmost importance.   Although it is difficult to distinguish the meaning of these two verbs, "submit" is the broader term. By using the word submit, the author indicates that Christians are not only to "obey" their leaders, but they are to "submit," that is, yield, give way, or defer to them(to yield respectfully in judgment or opinion; to submit to another’s wishes, opinion, or governance out of respect). This includes obedience to their authority and directives, as well as a disposition of deference, respect and subjection tothe elders even when there is a difference of opinion.   Submission to authority is often a test of our submission to God. Submitting to others is a mark of the Spirit-filled life (Eph 5:18-6:9).   5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, … 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.   God is truly concerned about how people treat one another, particularly how they treat those in positions of authority.Children, for example, are commanded to obey their parents. Christians are exhorted to submit to the rules and rulers of society (Ro 13:1; Tit 3:1 1Pe 2:17). Wives are to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22; Col 3:18; Tit 2:5; 1Pe 3:1,6). All Christian employees are to submit to their employers (Eph 6:5; Col 3:22; Tit 2:9; 1Pe 2:18). Christians are also commanded to submit to their spiritual leaders: the apostles and their delegates (2Co 2:9; 7:15; 10:6; Phil 2:12; 2Th 3:10); all who devote themselves to the care of the saints (1Co 16:15-16); the elders (1Pe 5:5); and all other church leaders (Heb 13:17).   Submission to authority is absolutely necessary for the proper ordering of society, and the church of God is no exception.     What to do when submission is difficult:  
  • When submission to Elders is difficult remember that they are God’s stewards and placed by the Holy Spirit to be overseers.
  • In Ac 20:28 Paul told the Elders of Ephesus to pay careful attention to themselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers.
  • In 1Pe 5:2, Peter urged the elders to shepherd the flock of God that is in their midst, exercising oversight.
  • In Tit 1:7 Elders are God’s stewards, entrusted with God’s work.
  • In 1Ti 3:5-6 Elders manage and take care of God’s church
  • In 1Ti 5:17 Elders rule and those who rule well are given double honor
  Strauch:   These terms imply that the elders have authority to direct the church, protect it from evil, and care for its overall welfare.   The elders are not mere figureheads or temporary, elected board members. They are God’s stewards and Spirit-placed overseers. Yet many Christians act as if they lead, oversee, and shepherd the elders!  
  • When submission is difficult, remember that we are all called to submit—even in trying and disagreeable situations.
  Children must submit to imperfect parents. Wives must submit to difficult husbands according to 1Pe 3:1-2. Slaves must submit to harsh employers  according to 1Pe 2:18. Likewise, the congregation is required to submit to and obey the elders, even if the elders have weaknesses and faults.   Strauch says, …The fact that these men of God are themselves sinners–which they are–no more relieves us from submission to them than the boy Jesus was relieved from submitting to Joseph and Mary while living in their  home in Nazareth.  
  • When submission is difficult, don’t make hasty judgments against leaders.
  Strauch:   Remember too, that the things we may interpret to be the elders' misjudgments or errors maybe our own. It is often difficult to understand our leaders’ perspectives because we can’t see things from their vantage point. So we should not be hasty to disregard or question the judgment of those God has placed in church leadership...  
  • When submission is difficult, respond in a spiritual manner.
  Strauch:   [Submission] does not suggest blind, mindless, irrational submission. Nor does it suggest that elders are above questioning or immune from doing wrong. In fact, Christians must strive to improve and change difficult leaders/follower-related situations. But Christians must do so through persevering prayer, studying the Word, humble and loving entreaty, and by viewing the difficulties as a means of glorifying God and refining one’s faith.  

2.   They are to help their leaders do their work with satisfaction and delight

  Heb 13:17 - Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.   Strauch   [The apostle John wrote]: “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 4). When there is disobedience, rebellion, and self-will, the joy vanishes and the leaders begin to groan.   [I think it would be safe for me to say that in the case of Diotrephes, John was not joyful but instead was groaning. We read in 3John 9,it says, “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.”]   The word groan expresses a strong inward emotion—an emotion that words are unable to articulate. In this context, the word expresses deep sorrow and longing for better conditions. “Groaning” will be present in leaders’ hearts whenever their warnings go unheeded, whenever there is rebellion and disobedience, and whenever the spiritual condition of the people wanes.   Moses is a good example of a leader who suffered because of the people’s disobedience and stubbornness. At one time in his life, the situation became so intolerable that he called on God to take his life. See Numbers 11:14-15 -“I can’t carry all these people by myself. They are too much for me. 15 If You are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now. If You are pleased with me, don’t let me see my misery anymore” (Holman Christian Standard Bible).   … Because people willfully rebel and endlessly complain, many good elders eventually resign from their work; they become too weary to carry the people’s burdens. In the end, everyone in the congregation suffers from the disobedience of wayward members.  

A warning:

  Heb 13:17 - Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.     Strauch   While disobedience distresses church leaders, it has an even more serious impact on the wayward believer. Ultimately, the disobedient believer is hurt, or as the writer to the Hebrews says, [“for that would be of no advantage to you”].The author’s remark, is an intentional understatement. It is a literary device, called a litotes(‘lī-to-tēz).   [A litotes is a figure of speech in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary.Don't worry if you didn't understand that definition. I didn't get it too until I looked as some biblical examples:
  • Acts 14:28 - And they remained no little time with the disciples (= NET: they spent a considerable time with the disciples)
  • Ac 15:2 - …Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them (= NET: had a major argument and debate with them)
  • Act 21:39 - Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city (= NET: an important city)]
  Stated positively, the clause, for that would be of no advantage to you, would read, “that is harmful to you,” or “that is disastrous for you.”   God may severely chastise the disobedient believer as in
  • 1 Corinthians 11:29-32
  29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.  
  • 2Thessalonians 2:9-11
  9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.]  
  • or a bitter spirit may set in, hindering all growth and maturity. [Heb 12:15]
  15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.]When this happens, all the God-given benefits of the shepherding ministry are lost.   To cut oneself off from God’s watchmen is dangerous business. Tragically that is precisely how many Christians handle their sins and their conflicts. To refuse to heed the cries and pleas of those in authority within the church may result in spiritual catastrophe. … While it may sound harsh, this injunction benefits and protects Christians. It is a strong command, but if obeyed it will greatly strengthen the household of faith.   Illustration:   While preparing for this study and while sharing this, I felt some heaviness in my heart because I know how true the warning in Hebrews 13:17 is, that it is harmful or disastrous for people to disobey the command found there. I know of someone who is close to my heart who has gone astray from the faith because he did not take heed this instruction from Hebrews. Many years ago he belonged to a church that was solid in doctrine and biblical in ministry. I also know the pastor personally. The pastor was a very good expository preacher and one who faithfully warned and disciplined the straying members of their church. But when this person attended the service, he would often sleep. He said that he had a difficult time understanding. But he never took the effort to train himself to listen. Whenever he attended their cell meetings, he would always ask trivial questions just to make the group laugh.   Then he attended that good church less and less and started attending another church that did not practice expository preaching. One of the most well-known preachers of that particular church is like a stand-up comedian. He did not formally inform his church of what was going on. He missed attending the church for several times, sometimes with valid reasons, sometime not. He was warned about going to such churches but he did not listen to the admonition of the leaders. What was important to him was that he understood the teaching, it was light, and enjoyable.   Then later, he had to move to a place that did not allow him to attend either his mother church or the other church. Because he still wanted to have bible studies so handled the Bible studies himself with his employees daily. He also invited pastors from different churches to come and visit him and his employees to have weekly Bible study. But unfortunately, hedid not know that those he invited were prosperity gospel teachers, whose teaching was  that it was God’s will for all Christians to be healthy, wealthy, and successful.  One day, one of these preachers fell into financial problems and was exposed to be a lover of money and mishandled funds of the church. As time went by he was getting more and more disappointed with the kind of Bible teachers that he was encountering. Now during those years, he had great interest in listening to the teachings of Mr. Eli Soriano of Ang Dating Daan. Later he came to deny essential doctrines of the Christian faith including the Trinity, salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. Not only did he begin to believemany other anti-Christian and heretical teachings but he also started to openly criticize Evangelical Christians and gave sweeping judgments about pastors that all they were teaching was tithing and money and they did not know how to interpret the Bible correctly and that they were all worldly. Finally, he got baptized and joined Ang Dating Daan, became one of the active promoters of that cult group and its teachings, and defenders of Mr. Eli Soriano. How ironic. He started off disobeying Hebrews 13:17. Now, without realizing it, he is following Hebrews 13:17 but applies this to a false church and a false teacher.If this person is truly saved, God is going to discipline him severely until he returns to the Lord before he dies. If not, then he has committed the sin of apostasy and Heb 6:4-8 applies to his case:   4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.   This story is not unique. There are hundreds and thousands of those who are no longer under the protection and blessing of God through the church and its leaders because they have not followed the command in Hebrews 13:17.   I would like to read again the quotation that I read a while ago from Alexander Strauch. He said,   It is tremendously important that Christians know what God says about submission and obedience to church leaders. Such knowledge is necessary for one’s spiritual protection, growth, and blessing.           Discussion and Reflection questions:
  1. As you again consider the instruction to church members in Hebrews 13:17, is there anything that surprised you? Why?
  2. What are some of the ways members have violated the commands found here?
  3. If you have failed to obey these commands, what are some concrete changes you can start doing?