"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." (Heb 13:17)
1. "Obey" is in the imperative, but middle voice, a passive. It is formed from the word for "persuade" so it means "be persuaded" or simply obey, but not just in form but from the mind. "Allow yourself to be persuaded" is the meaning. Don't be a trouble-maker.
2. The word "rule" simply means to go before, to lead. So the substance is "follow your leaders," because they have a very important task and your job is to make their task a joyful one, not one of grief.
3. The task is to "watch" for souls. The elders, and especially the minister, are to watch for the souls of the people of God. The figure is from the watchmen who were entrusted with surveillance of the area surrounding the city, especially the ravines and passes where enemies might approach unseen. God warned Ezekiel, the prophet, using this very same figure:
"So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. 8 When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. 9 Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul." (Eze 33:7-9)
This passage was familiar to those who received the letter to the Hebrews, and they would certainly have understood that their pastors served this same function in the church as the prophets did to Israel. Pastors and elders are to watch, be intellectually aware of heretical movements and practices, of sins that would disturb the church, of rebellions and murmurings, and warn the church of them. Not to do so is to be derelict of duty, and conniver with evil men or women. He has no choice about it if he is to serve Christ.
4. This would be so good for the church if they did this. When the leadership of a church is filled with sorrow and pain, the object of gossip and slander, of obstruction and dissension, it is very bad for the church. When leaders are honored it is good for the church, just as it is good for children when they obey their parents, for this is the commandment with promise. As the Heidelberg Catechism says on the Fifth Commandment:
Q104: What does God require in the fifth Commandment?
A104: That I show all honor, love and faithfulness to my father and mother, and to all in authority over me, submit myself with due obedience to all their good instruction and correction, and also bear patiently with their infirmities, since it is God's will to govern us by their hand.
1. Eph. 6:1-6, 22; Col. 3:18, 20-24; Prov. 1:8-9; 4:1; 15:20; 20:20; Exod. 21:17; Gen. 9:24-25
2. Rom. 13:1-7; I Peter 2:18; Matt. 22:21
3. Eph. 6:4, 9; Col. 3:19, 21; Prov. 13:24; 30:17; Deut. 27:16; 32:24; I Tim. 2:1-2; 5:17; Heb. 13:17-18
We will not find perfection in our leaders, just as they will not find perfection in their followers. But God would humble us and place us under human authority and government in order that we might know that we are to be ruled by His decree and goodness. It is an act of great faith for us to consent to live under human government and our flesh recoils against it, especially if we do not like those whom God has appointed. But we certainly have no choice as to our fathers and mothers, and often we do not get our will as far as church and civil authorities are concerned. But no matter their character, the word of the Holy Spirit stands forever:
"And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves." (1Th 5:12-13)
This is the command of Christ.
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