Real serenity. Not a worry in sight.

The Way of Submission and the Way of Peace, 13:17—21

Our letter writer is getting back the thought he began in verse 7:

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

The intervening verses, 8—16, may be considered parenthetical in that they are more or less doctrinal. With verse 17, the writer switches back to the practicalities of holiness. Christian leaders have a solemn responsibility to live a life that reflects the faith they preach. Eventually, these Christian leaders must give account to God, not only for themselves, but also for those under their care—the members of their church. The readers of this letter needed to keep this in mind, so as not to make their job any more difficult.

1. Submit to church leaders, verse 17

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.

In addition to imitating the life of faith of the spiritual leaders who have passed, Christians are to “obey” and “submit” to their present spiritual leaders. In all likelihood, this admonition was given in response to a specific occasion or incident which was known to the writer. We know, for example, that some of these Hebrew believers had given up gathering together for corporate worship and that others were being influenced by false teaching. Their true Christian leaders needed the support and encouragement of their people now more than ever!

Some in our cynical society, and indeed some of the original readers of this letter, may wonder whether or not their pastoral leaders really had God’s authority or whether they had invented their own authority. It’s not uncommon for people to seek a career in the ministry because they, frankly, like the power it gives them. So, how do you know if your pastor or Sunday School teacher has Christ’s authority as they do their work? If a spiritual leader is genuinely committed and dedicated to the Word of God, both professionally and personally, the odds are very good that they preach and teach with Christ’s authority.

Why is it so important to respect the authority of your spiritual leaders? It’s because they have a responsibility to care for you, but also they will have to answer to God for your spiritual condition. Yes, leading the flock of God is a great privilege, but with that privilege comes a very heavy responsibility. The phrase “they keep watch over you” really means, “the keep watch for your souls.” What a powerful thought! A true spiritual leader knows well the word of the Lord to Ezekiel:

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. (Ezekiel 3:17—18)

J.B. Philips in his translation of Hebrews renders the last sentences of verse 17 like this:

Try to make their work a pleasure and not a burden—by so doing you will help not only them but yourselves.

The task of the pastor is heavy enough at the best of times. When members of his congregation engage in spiritual mutiny, his job is even harder. The fact is, as we honor and respect our spiritual leaders, we not only bring them a measure of joy, but we also help ourselves in the process.

However, our submission to our spiritual leaders must be predicated on their submission to God. A spiritual leader must be called of God to do the work of God in watching over the souls of his people. If he’s all about playing golf and taking vacations and feathering his own nest, he has no claim to the divine rights of his position. Sometimes we forget the the position of “clergyman” was not invented by the Church, it was established by God.

2. Pray for one another, verses 18, 19

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.

These two highly personal verses are like the flip side of the coin. Preachers are not supermen. They need supernatural help to do their work. They need prayer. The man of God not only has a right to be obeyed by his people, but he also has needs. One of those needs is for the prayer support and the loving encouragement of his people.

As we read this verse, it’s almost pathetic. There is almost a sense that the writer, whoever it was, had a fear of rejection, or being taken the wrong way. It may well be that in addition to caring for the souls of his readers, he’s also combating scandalous accusations made against him by false teachers. But his conscious is absolutely clear; both his work and his conduct were in line with God’s Word.

It may seem strange that the writer of this letter—a mature, thoughtful, and obviously spiritual individual—should ask for prayer from those reading this letter—people who needed his help, people who were struggling in their faith. How odd it seems for the greater to be asking something of the lesser. However, there is a great lesson here for us. The idea that I, an average or maybe below average Christian, one who has his own lapses of faith and is riddled with doubt, should think it’s possible for me  pray for another seems like the height of presumption! Surely I am the one in need of prayer! That kind of thinking is probably more common than we think. When it comes to spiritual superiority and power in prayer, those things don’t rest in any particular individual but in God Himself! We do not pray and intercede for others out of our own spiritual resources, but out of God’s infinite grace administered through His Holy Spirit. The fact is, God has created us as individuals, yet bound together as the Body of Christ by His Spirit. And each one of us, members of one Body, while dependent on the other, also offer our own talents and abilities to the whole. When it comes to members of the Body of Christ, it’s never a matter of superiority or inferiority, but of working together in complete harmony. Paul comments on this:

those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:22—26)

This is why we are all called to pray for one another. Each of us has been created by God. We are different from each other; we are distinct from each other but each of us has a place in and a role to fulfill within the kingdom of God. We have a responsibility to each other and if we are unfaithful in carrying out that responsibility, it will go undone and somebody will suffer. It won’t be the one you should be responsible for because God’s grace will look after him. It will be you. If you are a lax or lazy Christian who is so self-centered you don’t realize your responsibilities as a member of the Body of Christ, you will miss out the best God wants for you.

The writer of this letter understood this, and in humility he is giving them a chance to be blessed by giving them the opportunity to pray for him.

3. The way of peace, verses 20, 21

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

What a beautiful title: the God of peace! These verses form a benediction but it’s a deep thought in these two verses. Our God is a God of peace, and He makes that peace available to us all. That title brings a number of things to mind:

a. We live in a hostile world.

While Christians are called to “be in the world but not of the world,” we realize that the world is hostile toward God, the things of God, and to the people of God. The world exists to frustrate the purposes of God. Not only is the world in which we live hostile, but there is a spiritual world that is also hostile to the Christian. There is spiritual warfare going on all around us; we can’t see it but we may frequently see its results. But God’s peace transcends the upheavals of the world we see and that which we can’t. The peace of God has been called “the peace that passes understanding” because it sometimes doesn’t make any sense! How in the world can a person be at peace when their lives are so topsy turvy? In reality, that peace can be ours; that peace is available to any and all believers. If you don’t have it, it’s not God’s fault!

b. There are struggles in the church.

Yes, it’s unfortunate but true, but sometimes the atmosphere inside the church is just as toxic as it is outside the church! Imagine never finding relief from the stresses and struggles of the world because your church is a mess. There are churches like that and there are Christians who don’t know what unity and harmony looks like because their church is full of divisions and strife. For you unfortunate believers in that boat, the Bible has a word of advice for you:

come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord… (2 Corinthians 6:17)

You may think you should “bloom where you’re planted,” but sometimes the best thing is to be uprooted and transplanted so you will flourish. Once again, if you get stressed out in your church, don’t blame God. You need get yourself in a position to receive His peace, and that might mean a new church.

c. Peace with God.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… (Romans 5:1)

Thanks to the work of Christ, we are no longer at war with God. The conflict between man and God is over! Those who have named Christ as Lord and Savior have found the peace of redemption and reconciliation with God. As we yield ourselves to God’s will and accept His forgiveness, we are immersed in a supernatural peace. We rejoice that God took the initiative in making peace with us and we are blessed as we open ourselves up to Him and receive it.

The writer’s benediction comes swiftly after asking to be remembered in prayer. It’s personal and to the point. He mentions his “short letter,” although if Hebrews is a short letter in his estimation, we’d hate to see what a long letter looks like! He mentions Timothy, which as led some scholars to thing the writer is Paul. He mentions Italy and God’s people living there. Then he wraps up his letter by wishing them God’s grace:

Grace be with you all. (verse 25)

Without question, God’s grace is man’s summum bonum. It is the greatest gift available to any human being: God’s grace.

(c)  2012  WitzEnd


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